The dreadful Stop Online Piracy Act was thankfully killed due to tremendous public pressure, but the internet faces a new threat to its independence: the UN. On February 27, the UN will begin deliberations to use the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to establish “international control over the internet.” According to FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, some of the regulations in consideration include:
• Subject cyber security and data privacy to international control;
• Allow foreign phone companies to charge fees for "international" Internet traffic, perhaps even on a "per-click" basis for certain Web destinations, with the goal of generating revenue for state-owned phone companies and government treasuries;
• Impose unprecedented economic regulations such as mandates for rates, terms and conditions for currently unregulated traffic-swapping agreements known as "peering."
• Establish for the first time ITU dominion over important functions of multi-stakeholder Internet governance entities such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit entity that coordinates the .com and .org Web addresses of the world;
• Subsume under intergovernmental control many functions of the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Society and other multi-stakeholder groups that establish the engineering and technical standards that allow the Internet to work;
• Regulate international mobile roaming rates and practices.
Russia and China are leading the effort to exert control over the historically free internet. These two countries are notorious for their imperious grip on free speech and the right to protest. After a year that saw social media facilitate major revolutions and social movements across the world, the idea of putting the internet in the hands of an international commission is terrifying.
The internet is inherently an open realm that can be used by anyone. Since 1998, nongovernmental organizations have handled the operation of the internet through a “multi-stakeholder” governance. Centralizing control of the internet is antithetical to its existence and should trouble anyone who values international free expression.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy apparently sides with domineering, rights-crushing countries like China and Russia, however.
“You have given every individual the chance to be heard everywhere by anyone. People have never had this chance before in history, but that right cannot be held by destroying the rights of others…Governments are the legitimate guardians of our societies and do not forget this.”
While Mr. Sarkozy seems to forget that certain governments (Libya, Egypt, Syria etc.) are not such “legitimate guardians,” he finds no harm in allowing bureaucracy to run the internet.
With so much of the economic growth in the past two decades coming from the internet, it is astounding that anyone would want to burden its accessible, expeditious infrastructure. The internet is currently a prime example of the virtues of the free market, but some countries are threatened by this unrestricted sphere.
The disastrous economic climate in Europe right now should be a harbinger of regulation run amok, and the pathetic state of human rights in countries like China should remind us of what happens under free speech limitations.
If the United States wants to uphold both its deep seated commitment to free market capitalism and protect economic, political, and social interests of the entire world, it should fight to resist these measures.
--William R.F. Duncan