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.

Filed Under: china, cispa, internet, itu, pipa, russia, sopa, united nations, vint cerf
Companies: icann


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  1. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 2 Jun 2012 @ 12:30am

    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.

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