July 23, 2024

Keep the Internet Free…


…of U.N. and other international political pressures.

That should be an belief that everyone reading this article should hold, implicitly or otherwise.  Most of us do believe that, although few of us regard our use of the Net as a type of freedom that has to be guarded.  That’s a mistake, as Elliot Noss pointed out back in ’05:

There is no doubt that both the U.N. and the ITU are much more adept at politics than either ICANN staff or the vast majority of participants in the ICANN process. That makes the threat here all the more real.

It is important to remember that we all rely on the rich ecosystem that is the free Internet. We are all beneficiaries of the innovation it spawns, the information it provides and the interaction it supports. We cannot take this for granted.

Now, as the NY Times reports, the latest debate in the U.N. about how to take control over the Internet’s central controlling feature – the Domain Name System (DNS) – away from the U.S. has just ended, fortunately with no ill effects:

A U.N.-sponsored Internet conference ended Thursday with little to show in closing the issue of U.S. control over how people around the world access e-mail and Web sites.

But not for lack of interest:

”I think that there are many Third World countries and developing countries and people from Asia and so on who are pressuring for changes,” said Augusto Gadelha Viera, coordinator of the Brazilian Internet steering committee and chairman of a closing session on emerging issues at the four-day Internet Governance Forum.

As the conference drew to a close, Russian representative Konstantin Novoderejhkin called on the United Nations secretary-general to create a working group to develop ”practical steps” for moving Internet governance ”under the control of the international community.”

Why is this issue important to these nations?  I’m not sure I know.  ICANN, the U.S. non-profit controlled by the Commerce Department, runs the DNS system with a light hand and has been making significant strides in the way that non-English-speakers can access Internet resources in their own language.

I am inclined to believe that it’s simply because the DNS is controlled by the U.S. and that practical considerations are not in the minds of these nations, at least not as relates to empowering their citizens to use the Net.  Suppression of this ability, on the other hand, remains a likely objective, dissent being what it is to certain of these governments.

The United States insists that the existing arrangements ensure the Internet’s stability and prevent a country from trying to, say, censor Web sites by pulling entries out of the domain name directories.

Supporters of the current system denounced the Russian proposal.

”The Russian proposal seeks to exponentially increase government interference in the ICANN process, introducing a dangerous and destabilizing force into a global Internet addressing system that has been a paragon of stability under the current oversight structure,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, a coalition of high-tech leaders like Time Warner Inc.’s AOL, eBay Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

That’s exactly right. 

Despite Yahoo’s cowardly decision to turn over records about a Chinese journalist to that oppressive government, I still prefer a system run by technology leaders and the U.S. government over one in which Vladimir Putin has authority, to say nothing of Iran, China, North Korea, et al.

So should you.  Whether you like the U.S. government or not, even if you’re caught in the throes of terminal B.D.S., recognize that such freedom as Internet offers, though imperfect, is maintained because of the current system of control.

Here are a couple of other perspectives that go to the heart of the matter:

“Our concern is that countries that have been the most vocal advocate of changing control of the Internet are not countries that support an open Internet,” said Leslie Harris, the president of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a nonprofit U.S. open-Internet advocacy group.

“It’s hard to believe that turning over the Internet to a body subject to negotiations between China’s version of the Internet and North Korea’s version of the Internet will result in an Internet that’s more open and free.”

“Should the U.N. gain control of the Internet,” the conservative U.S. research center the Heritage Foundation wrote on its Web site, “it would give meddlesome governments the opportunity to censor and regulate the medium until its usefulness as a vehicle for freedom of expression and international competition is crippled.”

For example:

The most dramatic example of Internet censorship happened recently in Myanmar, when the ruling military junta cut Internet connections to stop dissident blogs and other sites that had distributed information about government repression in the wake of September’s crushed pro-democracy protests.

And we’re supposed give that government a voice in running the world-wide Internet? 

h/t memeorandum


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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