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 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.