Be Afraid: Russia And China Seek To Put In Place Top-Down Regulation Of The Internet

from the pay-attention dept

For all the talk of SOPA/PIPA/ACTA/TPP, there’s another much bigger threat to “the internet as we know it.” It’s a bunch of countries who are seeking to use the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to create a top-down regulatory scheme for the internet. This process began a few months back, but FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has a pretty good summary of the situation in the WSJ, and why those who believe in internet freedom should be afraid. It is worth noting, of course, that things like ICANN and IETF are far from perfect today, but handing many of their functions over to the ITU with the goal of a pretty broad top-down regulatory plan for the internet is not the solution. McDowell highlights a few of the key points in the plan:

  • 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.

Again this attempt to give the UN and certain governments unprecedented control over parts of the internet is not new. It’s actually been in process for a few years, but it’s expected to heat up in the next few months, and most in the US don’t seem to even know it’s about to happen. While there are some issues that are worth discussing among the proposals, it’s been pretty transparent from the start that a lot of the plan is to give certain governments much more control over how the internet is used… and not in a good way. The internet thrives today in large part because it’s not controlled by governments, no matter how much they’ve slowly tried to encroach (and the US is particularly guilty of that lately).

The fact that this effort is mainly being led by Russia and China should give you a sense of the intentions here. Neither country is particularly well-known for supporting the principles of open communications or freedom of speech.

Unfortunately, as McDowell notes, the US doesn’t seem to be taking the issue particularly seriously, and hasn’t even assigned a negotiator to handle the discussions (though, I’m afraid to find out who they eventually do assign to that role). McDowell also points out that simply saying “no” to any changes probably won’t go over well with many countries — and all Russia and China need to get this approved are half of the countries to side with them on this proposal. Since doing nothing is often seen as ceding the internet to the US, that could be a problem. Of course, that doesn’t mean caving in. It means engaging and getting enough people aware of these issues so they can make a reasonable case for why a top-down management system would have massive unintended (or, um, intended) consequences that the world doesn’t want:

As part of this conversation, we should underscore the tremendous benefits that the Internet has yielded for the developing world through the multi-stakeholder model.

Upending this model with a new regulatory treaty is likely to partition the Internet as some countries would inevitably choose to opt out. A balkanized Internet would be devastating to global free trade and national sovereignty. It would impair Internet growth most severely in the developing world, but also globally as technologists are forced to seek bureaucratic permission to innovate and invest. This would also undermine the proliferation of new cross-border technologies, such as cloud computing.

A top-down, centralized, international regulatory overlay is antithetical to the architecture of the Net, which is a global network of networks without borders. No government, let alone an intergovernmental body, can make engineering and economic decisions in lightning-fast Internet time. Productivity, rising living standards and the spread of freedom everywhere, but especially in the developing world, would grind to a halt as engineering and business decisions become politically paralyzed within a global regulatory body.

Any attempts to expand intergovernmental powers over the Internet—no matter how incremental or seemingly innocuous—should be turned back. Modernization and reform can be constructive, but not if the end result is a new global bureaucracy that departs from the multi-stakeholder model. Enlightened nations should draw a line in the sand against new regulations while welcoming reform that could include a nonregulatory role for the ITU.

This issue is going to pick up steam pretty quickly in the next few months, so educate yourselves now…

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Comments on “Be Afraid: Russia And China Seek To Put In Place Top-Down Regulation Of The Internet”

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John Doe says:

I could see this actually happening

I could see an effort like this actually happening. Where the SOPA/PIPA/ACTA may be failing as it is seen as protectionists efforts by one or two industries, I could see this going through because it will be pushed by governments. The governments will see it as a source of taxes and people control. Of course they will say it is to stop pedophiles/terrorists/{insert latest fear here}.

I can assure you, as much as I use the internet and would hate to see it go, if this happens and governments start censoring and tracking, I will quit the internet cold turkey. It would be cheaper I guess since I would no longer need a smartphone and I can skip getting the latest Android tablet.

steve davidson (user link) says:

Sectioning Just Won't Work.

Sectioning or partitioning the treaty with regulations is not going to work. Too many would refuse to join and you just shut down any degree of trade between them at the same time. It’s a flat world these days, and to attempt to re-bottle the internet would be akin to gathering up gossip after the fact. Too little too late.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

salon has brief article on europe/acta...

it more or less hits many cogent points, but the few comments in place demonstrate the ignorance of the masses, and/or their buying the MAFIAA’s line of bullshit…
techdirters with some time to burn may want to go over and disabuse them of their ignorance…
that is all…
art guerrilla
aka ann archy
art guerrilla at windstream dot net

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe, just maybe, Russia and China are the good guys in this one. Certainly with all the ACTAs, TPPs, SOPAs, etc. coming out of the U.S., you can easily make the case that the U.S. is attempting to take over the Internet much like it is trying to take over the physical world. You certainly can’t make the case that the U.S. is the good guy in all of this.

A Guy (profile) says:

I’ve been waiting for this to happen. It was inevitable. China and Russia can have their own internet if they want total control over what their population do, hear, and say online. Nothing is stopping them.

A competition can ensue and whoever has the better network will win. The US and European economies might just improve a lot faster if doing business in China and Russia starts becoming too expensive due to regulation.

I say go do your own thing if you want to, but don’t expect the US, and most of Europe, to commit economic suicide with you.

V (profile) says:

Ignorance is bliss?

“…you can easily make the case that the U.S. is attempting to take over the Internet much like it is trying to take over the physical world.”

Take over the physical world?! Really? Are you completely out of touch with reality.

Look at EVERYTHING the US has touched in recent times… Iraq will probably end up in Iranian hands, Afghanistan’s will hate us forever, Egypt and Syria are going into Muslim extremist hands…

If anything, the US is cutting it’s own wrists.

Baldaur Regis (profile) says:

A free Internet...

…has never been good for any government. Political events such as the Arab Spring and the global pushback against aggressive IP regulation have shown politicians that the net is no longer just a marketplace of static web pages but a cross-cultural medium, where ideas are freely exchanged and consensus without oversight can be achieved.

It’s that ‘without oversight’ part that scares pols – their job description is to initiate and control the public dialogue. The rise and widespread acceptance of social media allows self-determination – anathema to any government entity.

Iran is trying a network solution for control via their “National Internet” approach. Russia and China, being much more schooled in realpolitik, understand that those who control the backbone, control the content. Telcos – whose lines actually carry the Internet between countries – have been astonishingling non-political to date. I’ve a feeling that many of these are going to be suddenly state-run.

Are we going to have nothing but National Internets? No – as has been noted above, the global internet is already out of the bottle. But we are going to have to fight for it.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Hold on

You’re actually going to take this seriously? It is from a WSJ OP page from a Republican. Yeah, he’s not biased at all.

I’m not sure what the publication or the political party has to do with anything.

I’ve been following this issue for sometime and his analysis is dead on. If you disagree with it, point out where it’s wrong. Attacking just the publication or the author without discussing the facts is a pretty weak argument, don’t you think?

Anonymous Coward says:

the countries involved in this have seen what the US has been up to with the way they have been forcing their will on to other countries and decided to give it a go themselves. now the boot could be on the other foot, i wonder how the US is going to take it?

as far as ‘most in the US don’t seem to even know it’s about to happen’ i assume we’re talking about the government? then that’s probably because they have had their heads so far up their arses trying to implement the new copyright laws and bullying other countries to do the same, they haven’t noticed what else is going on. did they really think they would be the only country that wanted to rule the ‘net? they’ve opened a big can of worms and others are now trying to get their part of the meal!

Anonymous Coward says:

VERY Confusing

Both Russia and China were not signatories to ACTA. So what does that say? I don’t know if either country is on the list for being unfriendly or not enforcing IP law but they could be.

I’m not so ready to jump on the good/bad ship based solely on what some from a US government agency says. I’ve been around enough to realize that the bulk of what most people in the US know about foriegn countries has been filtered through US “rose-colored glasses” and is usually far from the truth; i.e. Cuba, Venezuala, Columbia, (ex) Yugoslavia, … name a country and issue – and there’s another side.

I’d like to hear some more independent reporting from a world point of view – The Guardian? EFF? Public Knowledge? Asia Times? Germany?

This may not be so black or white. From what I’ve gotten is that the US isn’t taking part in negotiations might be because they want an internet more controlled like China or Russia – but I don’t think the all-mighty US corporation would give up control that easily.

TPB tried to buy an island at one time to form their own country … one guess why. It was a brillant idea and seems more timely than ever.

Instead of new pipes, couldn’t satillite’s be used for a new people’s net? That would change the debate.

Hephaestus (profile) says:


I was thinking the same thing. Any nation that seeks to regulate the internet via bureaucracy is doomed to get their asses handed to them.

6 weeks to register a website in nation A, with each person needing to be registered, the government having the ability to shut down any site at anytime, and having the ability to remove users at anytime. Sounds like a great idea, if you want online identity theft, extremely slow internet speeds, a huge internet police force that is constantly getting out smarted, and entire nations routing around your section of the net because it is unsafe to transfer information through your networks.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

A free Internet...

This Party Of We Thing has been happening online for years now. No one noticed the little events that have occurred. Finding a lost dog, tracking down a girl that killed a cat by stomping on it with high heels, a Chinese restaurant failing, hundreds of flash crowds, the list goes on with the events becoming larger over time.

The thing that is becoming obvious is these events are occurring with smaller triggers. People are beginning to have the attitude enough already, you can not take anymore from us. Which end up being a good thing, the harder governments push the harder people are now going to push back.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

The Role of General Knowledge.

Robert M. McDowell, like most high-level pooh-bahs, seems to have a rather rudimentary understanding of what ICANN does.

There are, de facto, practically no gTLD’s worth speaking about, merely mislabeled American country codes. Dot-Gov, dot-mil, and dot-edu are obviously creations of the United States government. The dot-com and dot-net TLD’s also belongs to the United States Government, and are managed by Network Solutions (Verisign) under a contract with the United States Department of Commerce. Registrars, such as GoDaddy, act as mere _agents_ for Network Solutions, and ultimately for the Department of Commerce. Network Solutions is physically located in Northern Virginia. As a technical matter, Network Solutions can simply pull the plug on a registrar which fails to play by the rules. It can deactivate the registrar’s account and sort out a list of the domain names created by that registrar, and have someone go through the list and figure out what to do about them, on a case-by-case basis. Dot-org is a bit of an anomaly. It is owned by the Public Interest Registry, a United States (Pennsylvania)-registered corporation. Dot-org is managed by Afilias, which has headquarters in Ireland, with additional offices in the United States, Britain, Canada, and India. On balance, I think one might say that dot-org has joint American-Irish sovereignty.

As I have noted previously, dot-biz and dot-info fall under the residual sovereignty of the WIPO treaty organizations, which has powers analogous to those of the Vatican City-State.

Since there aren’t really any gTLD’s, there is nothing to be regulated internationally. There are not any authoritative top-level-nameservers in space actually controlled by the United Nations or the International Telecommunications Union. As Josef Stalin put it, “How many divisions has the Pope?”

Now, of course, any country can create a “great firewall of China,” but that is something different. Russia is very unlikely to convince any ISP outside of Russia, and perhaps Byelorussia, that the authoritative nameservers for dot-us, dot-gov, dot-mil, dot-edu, dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org are located in Moscow or Petrograd.

On a similar level, there are readily available tables indicating which ranges of IP addresses have been allocated either (a) to the several regional IP registries, and from there, to various large telecommunications companies, or (b) to specified non-global uses, such as 192.168.x.x. There is some contention for 32-bit IPv4 addresses, of course. The 128-bit IPv6 addresses are sufficiently abundant, that it can be immediately obvious, from the first byte or two, which national telecommunications network they belong to. There simply are not anything like 64,000 entities with such apparatus of long-distance communication as undersea cables or communications satellites.

See also:

Abhishek Bhatnagae says:


I’m sorry, how is this an initative of Russia and China?

The original article on WSJ OP is poorly written with no sources and needlessly mentions Russia and China as FUD whereas this is actually the initiative of the ITU, the more than 100 year old keeper of ICT standards. ITU is a development and standards agency has nothing to do with the UNSC.

This has nothing to do with Internet monitoring.

What pissed me off the most is the headline of this article…cheap sensationalistic writing to draw the crowd.

For the future, opinion pieces are not news and should not be reiterated as facts.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Role of General Knowledge.

FWIW, the company managing .com and .net is called Verisign, not Network Solutions. VRSGN has a contract with the USG to manage the root zone file. The management of .com and .net is done through a contract with ICANN.

.org is run by the Public Interest Registry, a US based not-for-profit. Afilias is merely the technical backend provider to PIR.

.biz is run by Neustar, a company based in the US, again through a contract with ICANN. WIPO has nothing to do with it.

Your knowledge of the domain names area and ICANN seems quite dated.

Ishmael says:

Make room for our One World Leader

All this, clearly is setting the stage for a One World Government, and our Future One World Leader.

“He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666” (Rev. 13:16-18).

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