Tell The UN To Keep Its Hands Off The People's Internet

from the the-internet-belongs-to-us dept

Back in February, we wrote up a warning to “the internet as we know it” as the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was looking to take over control of the internet, mainly at the behest of countries like Russia and China who were seeking a “more controlled” internet, rather than the very open internet we have today. The major concern was that almost no one in the US seemed to care about this or be paying much attention to it. The February call to action may not have done much, but the situation has certainly changed in the last couple of weeks.

Last week, the father of the internet, Vint Cerf, once again raised the alarm in both a NY Times op-ed and in a keynote speech at the Freedom to Connect (F2C) conference:

His concerns echo the ones we’ve been hearing for months. This move is about giving some countries much greater control over the internet:

Last June, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated the goal of Russia and its allies as “establishing international control over the Internet” through the I.T.U. And in September 2011, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan submitted a proposal for an “International Code of Conduct for Information Security” to the U.N. General Assembly, with the goal of establishing government-led “international norms and rules standardizing the behavior of countries concerning information and cyberspace.”

Word of a few other proposals from inside the I.T.U. have surfaced. Several authoritarian regimes reportedly would ban anonymity from the Web, which would make it easier to find and arrest dissidents. Others have suggested moving the privately run system that manages domain names and Internet addresses to the United Nations.

Such proposals raise the prospect of policies that enable government controls but greatly diminish the “permissionless innovation” that underlies extraordinary Internet-based economic growth to say nothing of trampling human rights.

Since then, the story has been getting much more attention in a variety of arenas, with plenty of other mainstream publications warning people about how bad this could be. Congress got into the act too (in a good way), holding hearings on the matter this week, with a near unanimous position that a UN/ITU takeover of the internet would be a very, very bad thing.

It would guarantee moving the internet towards a model of top-down control, rather than bottom up innovation. It would give governments much more say in controlling the internet, unlike the hands-off system we have now, where no government truly has full regulatory control over the internet. It would almost certainly lead to more global restriction on the internet, including serious potential impact on aspects of free expression and anonymous speech. It might also make the internet much more expensive, as the whole ITU setup is about protecting old national telco monopolies, and many would see this as an opportunity to try to put tollbooths on internet data.

The ITU is holding a meeting in December in Dubai about all of this, and it appears that US officials are finally waking up to why this is a true threat to the open internet.

But it needs to go beyond that. The positioning of this discussion from ITU supporters is that the US government has “too much control” over the internet today. And one could argue that’s true at the margins, though it’s an exaggeration. For the most part the US government does not have much ability to control the internet directly. Now, I think plenty of people agree that the setup of ICANN and IETF are hardly ideal. In fact, they’ve got significant problems. But moving from that setup to one where the ITU is in charge would be a massive step backwards.

And, certainly, there is significant irony in the fact that Congress is suddenly acting so concerned about fundamental attacks on an open internet — when many of the same officials were more than happy to toss out key principles of an open and free internet in the past few months with SOPA/PIPA/CISPA/etc. But, in this case, worrying about political consistency is a lot less important than stopping the ITU proposal from going forward.

When the US government started seizing domains, there was significant criticism of ICANN and calls for a more decentralized solution that no one could control. The move towards ITU oversight is a move in the opposite direction. It would make things significantly worse and not better.

For those in the US, we need to speak up and keep the pressure on our elected officials to fight this move in the ITU. While they’re saying the right things now, we need to be vigilant and ensure it continues. Trust me, the “irony” of their own attacks on internet freedom and openness have not gone unnoticed by supporters of this ITU takeover plan. Expect them to offer “deals” to the US, by which the ITU gets control over the internet, in exchange for allowing the US to use that process to move forward with efforts to censor the internet for copyright reasons, as well as to get better backdoors to data for snooping.

For those outside of the US, it’s also time to speak up. Don’t fall for the easy story that this is just about wresting the control from US interests. If you believe in the value of a free and open internet, the ITU is not the answer. You, too, will inevitably be significantly worse off with what results.

The folks over at Access have put together a petition to tell the UN that the internet belongs to us, the people, not to the UN or the governments of the world. While the UN is not as subject to public opinion, if the world speaks out loudly enough against this effort to capture and control the internet, it won’t be able to move forward. But people have to speak out to make this happen.

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Comments on “Tell The UN To Keep Its Hands Off The People's Internet”

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

his current position leaves him sort of politically in never never land.

No wonder so many members of Congress supported him yesterday and so many in the press are quoting him — and why we’ve been hearing that his words are having an impact in European political circles as well.

I know it’s the internet, and you can just make up stuff, but it helps to at least make the stuff you make up somewhat believable you know?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Why? Vint Cerf is still a powerful voice, he still has an incredible amount of history behind him. However, his recent choices, along with a series of “sounding alarm” type proclamations is a bit of a change.

Mike is just being a fuck about it because he doesn’t like anyone getting on Google.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Look, I am but one voice in the wild. However, you do great in saying something until you resort to harsh language. Then you ruin your dialog. And by the way, as much as I respect Mike’s opinion, he can be one sided. But it is his blog.

Sure Google is no saint but so far, all things considered, I seem them as less evil than so many other organizations. Frankly, there are much more evil organizations out there to rail against.

Just because Google was smart and efficient seems to make it everyone’s favorite target for solving/paying/fixing all issues on the Internet.

Anyway, I guess I’m asking you to keep talking but, it would be more fun to discuss issues with you when you are keeping it civil.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I just think that a guy who works for one of the few companies that has an interest in the internet SPECIFICALLY the way it is now, coming out and saying “leave the internet alone” seems a little, convenient.

I think that plenty of good could come from the internet being transferred out of the US’s hands, and a lot of harm. Perhaps the Swiss can run it. I just don’t think that the status quo is specifically the best answer. It’s almost certainly the best situation for Google, however – LOL.

I think Mike misses who Cerf has worked with for the last 7 years. The same discussion under a Google banner would have a very different feel, even with the same words spoken by the same man.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

He is in never never land… he is trying to protect the internet from X, but really, he is part of Google, and that puts him on the side of something that many consider just as evil.

A decade ago, he was a powerful voice and pretty much beyond reproach. Now he work with the borg. Hard to say that he hasn’t ended up in a bit of a spot where you have to wonder if his comments are entirely his own, or perhaps that they reflect real fear from Google corporate.

You really do need to think past the end of your nose on stuff like this. Stop taking everything as an attack. It’s an observation. Can you calm down?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Furthermore, it’s worth pointing out, for you claiming that his position at Google limits his ability to say anything that isn’t about protecting Google, in the very speech we have embedded above, he goes off on CISPA — a bill that Google has not actually taken a position on, and which many people have suggested Google supports behind the scenes.

The idea that Cerf’s views have been tainted or limited by Google is not supported by the facts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“he goes off on CISPA — a bill that Google has not actually taken a position on, and which many people have suggested Google supports behind the scenes.”

Have you considered that Google is trying the waters in each direction? Unlike SOPA (where it was clear that their EFF money was hard at work), this one may be a lot more subtle. Google knows they need to tread a little more lightly when deal with issues in front of certain audiences.

Can you accurately tell me where Cerf’s views end and Google’s begin? I think it’s getting a little less clear.

Anonymous Coward says:

To voice the opinion mentioned so many times when controlling the Internet comes up: It’s always about control.

In this case, many government’s are doing their very level best to get ANY foothold on the Internet. Once we give them any control, then that government will try to give itself more.

Once one government has ANY control, other governments will decide that they need control of “their” piece of the Internet too.

It’s at that point, the Internet is taxed and regulated by governments, including small local ones and large federal ones. Just like the phone system is now.

Once any government has control, freedom of speech (as much as it is anymore.) will be lost. Your ability to comment negatively will be killed. There simply is no good reason for allowing (I do mean allow) any governmental body control over any of the Internet. Look at what China does. Or Thailand.

And still, people and politicians pander to the “There Outta Be a Law!’ rallying cry to justify why they need to legislate some portion (Or MUCH more.) of the Internet.

One day, 1984 will catch up to all of us. The governments and corporations of the world will be happy about that. What about the rest or us?

Anonymous Coward says:

The point is that the US owns the foundations of the Internet and the rest of the world want the US to recognize that it isn’t just their baby any more.

Right now the IANA (the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) decides who gets what address on the Internet. And they ultimately answer to the US Department of Commerce.

While people are busy freaking out about how if we hand the internet over to the UN the dictators will rule the Web and fragment the network into something with national boundaries, I suggest you take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The network is already fracturing into national boundaries and is being censored already. The UK censors its internet, so does France, so does Italy, and Russia, and China, and so on. Handing control over an international network to the UN makes sense. Besides, if you’re worried that other nations will run roughshod over the ‘Net, just remember that unless the US supports a resolution in the Assembly, it won’t get passed, so there’s still just as much of a political handle on the situation as there is now.

The change will end the practice of allowing groups like the RIAA and MPAA to abuse the laws in their host countries to force ISPs in other countries to do what they want.

arcan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

the point is that the idea of governments owning the internet is laughable. they don’t understand the technology. a global regulating body is unnecessary and will be harmful in the long run. plus the internet is designed to be open. locking it down underneath the UN will result in either significant damage to the internet due to excessive meddling or the UN being as completely inept at regulating it. either of which is not an outcome which will be good.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And that body is not accountable (Much anyway) to any regulatory organization.

Honestly, can you think of one government or just tone governmental organization that would do a better job? Honestly and frankly, I think any governmental organization would make it much harder to participate.

And, at the moment, I am having a seriously hard time thinking of any thing the UN has done that was worthwhile or had real enforcement to it. The UN has been a waste of time for about 40 years now and I see no reason to think that they wouldn’t be pushovers for any government that wanted to push them around.

So, you think that a large government style organization should take over the Internet simply because the US helped put the current organization together? You name one organization that could do a better job and I will be very interested to talk about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Right now the IANA (the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) decides who gets what address on the Internet. And they ultimately answer to the US Department of Commerce.

Maybe I’m still too busy scanning ‘broadband to my house’ for multiple frequencies and listening to Laurie Anderson.. but… when did the the dept of commerce take over IANA?


Roger Ramjet says:

Re: Re: Re: Yeah, sure they did.

The founding fathers of the United States created the government the way it is to DECENTRALIZE power as MUCH AS POSSIBLE to KEEP any ONE body of power from becoming too powerful.

Oh, barf. The hollow echoes and revisionist history regurgitation of yet another mind-controlled zero.

Even if what you echo were true, the results of that alleged effort would be:


See Monsanto, Bank of (snigger) America and their ilk for who really runs the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Yeah, sure they did.

Ok, how about this?

No government so far has proven an ability to effectively run anything critical or important. Many times when the government was shown to have done something stupid, the politicians behind it threw up fingers pointing in many other directions instead of fixing the issue.

Finally, as with so many things lately, NDAA, ACTA SOPA, etc, with people suggesting and approving crap like that, do you really want someone like that involved?

silverscarcat says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Yeah, sure they did.


The only fail I see is the idiot who posted (you).

WHY do you think there’s the separation of powers clause in the constitution?

WHY do you think the 9th Amendment says “ANYTHING that the Consitution says that the Federal Government can do is reserved to the STATES”

And WHY do you think the 10th Amendment states that “ALL OTHER RIGHTS ARE RESERVED TO THE PEOPLE”

Know your facts about history before you spout off stupidity.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I dont think it will matter, if the UN said we are doing X (say seize the internet) who are they going to send? IF the US will not support it, it falls (hell US troops make up 80% of the “deployed” troops under UN “control”), if the US pulls the support, they become a shell (be kind of funny to see the US pull their pretty building in NY away and tell them to f off)

ICANN and all the rest tell them to pound sand and i doubt there is much they can do, then add to it the Netizens start raising hell and it will be chaos (but should be interesting)

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

> The US gets only one vote this should get interesting,
> since they have no veto power on this one.

Maybe not officially, but if the UN regulators tried to do something repugnant to the US Constitution (banning anonymous speech, criminalizing offending people, etc.), the US courts won’t comply. And then what? Is the UN going to invade us to force us to comply with their internet edicts?

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: ICANN is a Paper Tiger, just like the IPU and the ITU.

Let us talk closely about what ICANN does.

There are two kinds of names and numbers on the internet, basically. The first kind are those which relate to the ways in which a given two internet hosts talk to each other, that is, protocols. Protocols such as HTTP or FTP are defined by RFC documents. RFC stands for “Request For Comment. They have no imperative status. Each designer of a browser, or a server, or a router decides whether or not to implement a given RFC, and under what conditions, taking into account the possibility that the party on the other side might choose to supply malicious misinformation. The usual rule is “trust, but verify.” Two private parties, by mutual agreement, can use any protocol number they want to use, and have it mean whatever they want it to mean.

The second kind of names and number are those which identify internet hosts. ICANN does not allocate individual host names or IP addresses. It allocates top-level domains to nations, and certain widely recognized international organizations. Dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org are American national domains, in much the same sense that English postal stamps only say “Royal Mail,” and not “United Kingdom,” even when English postal stamps are used to send mail to an American address. The attempt to sell top-level domains to companies was a thinly disguised form of blackmail, a threat that if the companies did not pay up, ICANN would assist crooks to impersonate these companies. That was a major blunder, of course, and ICANN seems to be slowly backing down under color of technical delays. ICANN’s own regulations state that a national domain name registry must maintain amicable relations with the national government.

Large contiguous blocks of IP addresses, and network numbers, are allocated to national telephone and networking companies, which may sub-allot them to customers. Under IPv6, there will be so many IP addresses that it will be feasible to give each telecommunications company one big address block, once, a million times bigger that it ever expects to use, at which point the regional IP address registries will become effectively inert. Telecommunications companies enter into private arrangements with each other to establish communication via undersea cables. The International Telecommunications Union owns no undersea cables, nor does it own the switches which the various national telecommunications companies plug into their respective ends of the cables.

In short, when ICANN is working the way it is supposed to work, it has essentially no business. Much the same can be said, incidentally, of the International Telecommunications Union, and the International Postal Union. The principle function of the International Postal Union, incidentally, is to negotiate agreements whereby the various national post offices agree to collect postage on each-other’s behalf, so that someone sending a letter or a package does not have to deal with multiple postal agencies. This includes the International Reply Coupon. The International Postal Union is under the United Nations, but that does not mean that UN appointees get to pick through international mail. The Royal Mail in England loads mail in air-shipping containers, and takes these containers to Heathrow Airport, where it hands them over to an airline, with instructions to deliver them to the United States Postal Service in New York, at JFK Airport. Possibly, the Royal Mail may send along a courier on the airplane, to make sure of delivery. As long as the Royal Mail and the United States Postal Service do not get into a billing dispute, the IPU remains inert. The IPU has no sorting post offices, It owns no Boeing 747 Freight Jets. Very well, the same set of principles apply to internet service.

Now, of course, there has been a certain amount of dispute about “offshore dot-com” domains. If you are in, say, Nigeria, and you have a dot-com domain, that is equivalent to having a post office box in New York, and paying a forwarding service to pick up the contents and deliver them to Nigeria. If you don’t obey American laws, your post office box will be closed, and mail addressed to it will be impounded.

Anonymous Coward says:

The folks over at Access have put together a petition to tell the UN that the internet belongs to us, the people, not to the UN or the governments of the world.

OMG, really? The internet doesn’t “belong to us.” What idiotic idealism. You really do think the internet should be above the law, don’t you? Good luck with that, Pirate Mike.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The internet doesn’t “belong to us.”

Who do you think it belongs to then? Corporations? Governments? Space Aliens? I think it belongs to all the individual contributors who have made it what it is today myself. And if any entity attempts to control it, then all the netizens will simply move on to the next generation of technology that isn’t controlled and all that will be left is a controlled hollow shell that no one uses anymore. Sorry, that genie isn’t going back into that bottle.

What idiotic idealism.

No, realism. The real idiotic idealism we have nowadays is the belief that modern democratic governments are actually “for the people”.

You really do think the internet should be above the law, don’t you?

Yes I do. That’s not saying that individuals shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions in any way, shape or form, just that the internet as a whole should be above the confines of any individual government. It already exceeds that now by the way it transcends political borders.

Good luck with that, Pirate Mike.

Childish ad hominems only diminish your arguments. You should really work on that.

ToFit says:

Re: Don't understand AC's arguement here...

If any ownership claim exists, the internet belongs to the US government- since DARPA invented it. Any copyright maximalist or patent troll/maximalist would support the US claiming all rights due to original invention.

If you don’t support US rights as a copyright or patent maximalist, then it falls into something like a creative commons or non-owned materials. The U.N. intervention is an unwise precendence and means that any type of property could potentially be claimed by the U.N. by declaration. Even patent and copyright maximalists and trolls should understand why that is a problem. What happens when the U.N. decides it wants to vote itself a cut of the next Avengers movie?

I’m not sure why you don’t support U.S. ownership of the internet instead of the U.N. since that seems most in line with strict patent rights and the U.N. has no legally binding enforcement on any single country? Overall the U.N. is corrupt and useless. The internet is in best hands as a distributed network made up by indivudual computer componets owned by each computer user, owner, ISP, and private copany. In the next best case it is possibly owned by the U.S. government

…the last thing anyone should want is for the U.N. to seize control. This shouldn’t matter on either side (from those that support copyright reform or if you are a maximalist troll). U.N. control is not good for anyone…

JackSombra (profile) says:

Re: Re: Don't understand AC's arguement here...

Overall the U.N. is corrupt and useless.

And many, especially those outside the US view the US government as corrupt and dangerous in regards to the internet (and other things), especially after the actions of the last few years

I’m not sure why you don’t support U.S. ownership of the internet instead of the U.N

Either one is a bad choice, problem is someone needs to be in charge to to keep things in order. After the last few years it’s starting to look at lot better to many people to have a useless UN in charge instead of a US government who is abusing their control

ToFit says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Don't understand AC's arguement here...

Also as a measure of possible corruption you could assess the potential to change leadership of each group such as for the U.S. governemnt-

A U.S. citizen can observe corrupt behavior and vote out the individual within at maximum a 6 year peroid of time. U.S. Senate = 6 year terms. The main leadership of presidency is limited to two terms of 4 years for a maximum of 8 years of power.

For the U.N.-

Kofi Annan and his kids took money for at least 6 years of his term- they remained at the U.N. for years without recouse. The main problem is that no one set of citizens observes their behavoir or is able to vote them out of power. A change in one county’s leadership may or may not change the U.N. leadership so there is no controls over this body from any country. Also the body has the ability to keep leadersip around with indefinite renual terms of service. Most Secretary Generals have served at least 10 years. Their term is 5 years, but most are renued almost automatically unless they choose to leave service or die on the job.

Therefore at worst you need to tolerate a corrupt leader from the U.S. 6 years- with the ability to force a recall election or impeachment. The U.N. has an undetermate term of service without control to vote out corrupt leadership. This fact in itself demonstrates why the U.S. is a better place to keep leadership in check with the will of some group of people…even if it is not representitive of the entire world. Corruption can go unchecked longer at the U.N.

Anonymous Coward says:

to me, this goes back to the entertainment industries trying to rule the internet, with the US government and law enforcement agencies doing as much as possible to ensure it happened. add to that the policies that the US has tried to/are still trying to introduce (SOPA, CISPA, TPP etc), under the scrutiny of those same entertainment industries, which allow citizen tracking, website blocking, censorship etc whilst criticizing other countries for doing the same thing and you can see why those ‘other countries’ think they can make these drastic changes, unimpeded.

Anonymous Coward says:

The US needs to take a dose of it’s own concerns on controlling the net. The inroads the copywrong industry is trying to make are in the same basic directions.

The US has lost a lot of it’s credibility because of being as hypocritical as it has been. Saying on one hand that places like China need better human freedoms while at the same time trying to regulate the same at home. One only needs to look at the OWS protests and how various cities have handled the protests, such as NYC and Oakland to see not a lot of difference between the two. Had the US continued to act with that creditability it would now have good faith to stand in it’s stead.

The actions of ICE don’t speak very well in that field either when you look at Rojodirect, dajaz1, or Megaupload. In each case, ICE has acted more like the countries it’s concerned with on this issue than a country concerned with upholding law and order, as the law reads.

John says:

Why would anyone want to propose putting anything as important as the Internet under the UN mandate is beyond belief. It is already in the best hands, controlled completely by an advanced country with no moral failings, no monopolistic or protectionistic tendencies and whom will never use the Internet to further its own agendas nor Ever spy on its own people or International Organisations like the UN.

Why should one as esteemed as such bother to even come up with any excuses to hold on to the absolute control of the Internet is beyond me.

John says:

Why would anyone want to propose putting anything as important as the Internet under the UN mandate is beyond belief. It is already in the best hands, controlled completely by an advanced country with no moral failings, no monopolistic or protectionistic tendencies and whom will never use the Internet to further its own agendas nor Ever spy on its own people or International Organisations like the UN.

Why should one as esteemed as such bother to even come up with any excuses to hold on to the absolute control of the Internet is beyond me.

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