Wednesday, September 28, 2005

UN Debates Internet Control

A conference on how best to run the Internet, and who should do it, is set to conclude this Friday with no agreement in sight. (The Register: WSIS: Who gets to run the internet?). The US argues that the internet should continue to be independently run by "companies, organizations, and individuals." As it stands now, ICANN, the existing body responsible for Internet oversight, is independently run.

The other side of the argument is being advanced primarily by Iran and Brazil who favor an Internet run by governments and under the control of the UN. US Ambassador David Gross dismissed that entirely, "The United Nations will not be in charge of the internet. Period."

The thought of any government-based control of the Internet is repulsive. A quick glance at the restrictions imposed in China and the challenges faced even by search engine providers there points out the hazards of allowing government oversight of the Internet. It's no wonder countries with repressive regimes or closed societies that do not permit free speech would like to see a tight leash placed on the Internet. Clearly, the US and our allies cannot allow that to happen.

There has been growing speculation that the concept of a single internet - one large loosely connected super network as it exists today - may be on borrowed time. What may well come out of this debate is the development of two separate and isolated networks with the Internet as we know it today accessible only from nations that have a tolerant view of free speech. A closed, government controlled network may well arise in this nations that seek to limit access to their citizens. In fact, China already appears headed down that path with the extreme censorship they already place on Internet access and the content that can be delivered within their borders.

What I do know is that the Internet does not belong in the hands of any government agency, US or otherwise. It most certainly does not belong in the hands of the UN. That it's even being discussed there is frightening enough. Fortunately, I doubt seriously that the UN is capable of reaching a consensus on this issue, and they certainly are incapable of enforcing any regulations reached without the full backing of the US - something they will not achieve if it includes government or UN oversight.


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