Showdown set on bid to give UN control of Internet

Oct 29, 2012 by Rob Lever
File photo of people using an Internet cafe in Beijing. When delegates gather in Dubai in December for an obscure UN agency meeting, fighting is expected to be intense over proposals to rewrite global telecom rules to effectively give the United Nations control over the Internet.

It is expected to be the mother of all cyber diplomatic battles. When delegates gather in Dubai in December for an obscure UN agency meeting, fighting is expected to be intense over proposals to rewrite global telecom rules to effectively give the United Nations control over the Internet.

Russia, China and other countries back a move to place the Internet under the authority of the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency that sets technical standards for global phone calls.

US officials say placing the Internet under UN control would undermine the freewheeling nature of , which promotes open commerce and , and could give a green light for some countries to crack down on dissidents.

Observers say a number of authoritarian states will back the move, and that the major Western nations will oppose it, meaning the developing world could make a difference.

"The most likely outcome is a tie, and if that happens there won't be any dramatic changes, although that could change if the make a big push," said James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"But there is a lot of discontent with how the Internet is governed and the US will have to deal with that at some point."

Lewis said there was still an overwhelming perception that the US owns and manages the Internet. Opponents have a "powerful argument" to create a global authority to manage the Internet, Lewis said, but "we need to find some way to accommodate national laws in a way that doesn't sacrifice human rights."

Terry Kramer, the special US envoy for the talks, has expressed Washington's position opposing proposals by Russia, China and others to expand the ITU's authority to regulate the Internet.

"The Internet has grown precisely because it has not been micro-managed or owned by any government or multinational organization," Kramer told a recent forum.

"There is no Internet central office. Its openness and decentralization are its strengths."

The head of the ITU, Hamadoun Toure, said his agency has "the depth of experience that comes from being the world's longest established intergovernmental organization."

Toure wrote in the British newspaper The Guardian that any change in regulation should "express the common will of ITU's major stakeholders" and "find win-win solutions that will act as a positive catalyst."

But Harold Feld of the US-based non-government group Public Knowledge said any new rules could have devastating consequences.

"These proposals, from the Russian Federation and several Arab states, would for the first time explicitly embrace the concept that governments have a right to control online communications and disrupt Internet access services," Feld said on a blog post.

"This would reverse the trend of the last few years increasingly finding that such actions violate fundamental human rights."

Paul Rohmeyer, who follows cybersecurity at the Stevens Institute of Technology, pointed to a "sense of anxiety" about the meeting in part because of a lack of transparency.

He said it was unclear why the ITU is being considered for a role in the Internet.

"The ITU historically has been a standards-setting body and its roots are in the telecom industry. I'm not familiar with anything they've done that's had an impact on the Internet today," Rohmeyer told AFP.

And the analyst noted that the significance of extending "governance" of the Internet to the ITU remains unclear.

Some observers point out that the ITU hired a Russian security firm to investigate the Flame virus, which sparked concerns about the dangers in cyberspace and the need for better cybersecurity cooperation.

Rohmeyer said it was unclear whether a conspiracy was at hand, but that "the suggestion that the Internet is a dangerous place could be used to justify greater controls."

Observers are also troubled by a proposal by European telecom operators seeking to shift the cost of communication from the receiving party to the sender. This could mean huge costs for US Internet giants like Facebook and Google.

"This would create a new revenue stream for corrupt, autocratic regimes and raise the cost of accessing international websites and information on the Internet," said Eli Dourado of George Mason University.

Milton Mueller, a professor of information studies at Syracuse University who specializes in Internet governance, said most of the concerns are being blown out of proportion.

Mueller said the ITU "already recognizes the sovereign right of nations to restrict communications into and out of the country."

"What gets lost in the confusion over content regulation is that the real motive of most of the reactionary governments is to protect themselves from economic competition caused by telecom liberalization and deregulation, of which the Internet is only one part," he said.

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User comments : 12

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Noumenon
4.7 / 5 (46) Oct 29, 2012
No fu'kng way. In fact the US should stop funding the UN entirely.
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Oct 29, 2012

Every facet of this dispute in one way or another constitutes a double-edged sword.

No central authority by default leaves regulation to individual nations, which gives rise to proposed legislation such as CISPA, SOPA, and similar "cybersecurity" legislation, and the kind of litigation presently ongoing between France and Google.

Centralized authority creates an environment that could throttle innovation and adoption/deployment of new capabilities.

All lead to an erosion of individual rights, access to information, and increased inequality, and are based in the struggle for revenue sources.

chromosome2
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 29, 2012
I think that the UN is the proper authority for internet management, given that it's a global system. I don't trust the US with it. All this talk about our supporting freedom of expression while we hunt down and torture wikileaks informants and pass the promise of public office before sweater-vested idiots who want to ban porn.. seriously. The US isn't the best option for freedom of speech. Switzerland or something probably is. Give it to the UN, stop pretending like we own the world.
Noumenon
4.7 / 5 (46) Oct 30, 2012
Either buy, sleal, or borrow a clue. Most other countires represented in the UN could care less about freedom of speech, and they would certainly ban your gay porn (j/k),... and in addition they would TAX the internet for "global causes". The UN desire for control over the internet is a foot-in-the-door to control other things.

while we hunt down and torture wikileaks informants


That's not about freedom of speech, thats about protecting national security. EVERY country, especially the ones representing the UN would protect their intel and military data.
gwrede
3.7 / 5 (6) Oct 30, 2012
The Internet was made by the US, for the US, and then they let other countries use it, too. Now a number of countries have forgotten that, and think they have some kind of Right to make Demands.

I've been happy with how the Internet has fared so far, and i am a European, for chrissake. One of my friends uncle was the Chairman of the ITU in the nineties, so I should speak for them, but I see no reason to change the current status of the Internet.
westelca21
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 30, 2012
These socialist and muslim dictators have taken over the u.n. and it is time to scrap this totally corrupt organization!

kochevnik
3 / 5 (2) Oct 30, 2012
That's not about freedom of speech, thats about protecting national security. EVERY country, especially the ones representing the UN would protect their intel and military data.
Poor Neurotard. Eternally confused about the distinction between defensive and offensive war and those annoying things: habius corpus and the constitution. How those jackboots fitting?
The Internet was made by the US, for the US, and then they let other countries use it, too. Now a number of countries have forgotten that, and think they have some kind of Right to make Demands.
But CERN in Europe made it pertinent to 99% of users. Without the web you would still be using CB radios and dial-in chat boards.
VendicarD
5 / 5 (2) Nov 01, 2012
NumenTard is correct. It is time to get the U.N. out of the U.S. and the U.S. out of existence.

"No fu'kng way. In fact the US should stop funding the UN entirely." - NumenTard
VendicarD
5 / 5 (2) Nov 01, 2012
ClapTrap.

The Internet has always been pan-national since it is simply an interconnected set of networks.

Al Gore gets the credit for Creating the Internet as an open system of communication, and the researchers at CERN get the credit for making it hyperlinked and easy to navigate.

It is a shame that in the U.S. corporate control of access to the internet has so limited the ability of American's to use the system, and driven up it's cost for Americans.

But that is the natural result of under-regulated Capitalism. The consumer gets screwed every time.

"The Internet was made by the US, for the US, and then they let other countries use it, too." - qwerde
VendicarD
not rated yet Nov 01, 2012
It appears then that America has lost the cold war.

"These socialist and muslim dictators have taken over the u.n. " - wesTard

The world has gone socialist and America has gone bankrupt. Uncle Sam can not compete intellectually or economically on the world stage.

It is sad to watch America becoming a nation of beggars and deadbeats.
VendicarD
5 / 5 (2) Nov 01, 2012
The fate of the U.N. as a seat of Global Governance is unstoppable.

As America rapidly fades into the dustbin of history, Numentard will come to realize this as well.

He will not be happy about it, but then, no one really cares what makes Conservative Kooks happy.

"The UN desire for control over the internet is a foot-in-the-door to control other things." - NumenTard
VendicarD
5 / 5 (2) Nov 01, 2012
It is amusing to see Quacks like NumenTard railing on about "freedom of speech", when his kind of filth operates political prison camps in Guantanamo, and plans to imprison Jilian Assange for telling the truth about U.S. atrocities in Iraq.

"That's not about freedom of speech, thats about protecting national security. " - NumenTard

Hypocritical Filth.