Don't let the UN steal the Internet

Don't let the UN steal the Internet

Summary: If the UN seizes control of the Internet, they'll take the Internet from the voices of freedom and give it to nations who'd prefer to either kill it or refashion it into another tool of state control.


Look, I'm all for the UN as much as the next guy. I'm a firm believer in the idea of nations, all working peacefully together, to carry out America's agenda. Okay, I'm half kidding. But when the UN starts listening to particularly anti-freedom regimes and starts pushing for its own, particularly anti-Internet and anti-freedom agenda, I'm no longer a happy camper.

I'm currently a very not happy camper.

The problem is we (and I'll get back to the definition of "we" in a second), don't have the same values as many nations in the UN. China, for example, wants to control what Web sites its citizens can visit. Russia, wavering between burgeoning (and somewhat out-of-control capitalism) and old-school Soviet-style totalitarianism, wants the UN to control how IP addresses are allocated. Egypt, which was once something of an American ally, but is now apparently under Muslim fundamentalist control, tried to shut its people completely out of the Internet during a controversial election.

The thing is, we -- and here I'm referring to Internet users, the "we the Internet" concept I've talked about before -- we can't allow the Internet to be stolen out from under us.

That's essentially what the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is trying to do.

The way they're attempting this is by making a power grab for the plumbing that runs the Internet. Today, various aspects of the underlying Internet infrastructure are controlled by loose groups of allied techies and industry, with some influence and funding by various government and nonprofit entities.

CNET: United Nations views Flame as cybersecurity opportunity

Changes to fundamental Internet infrastructure are accomplished more by an Internet-age town meeting than by a regulatory board comprised of national representatives. National agendas are almost always secondary, while Internet freedom is always a primary consideration.

That's today. But if the UN seizes control, that will all change.

Regimes will find it much easier to lock their populations out of the Internet. They'll find it much easier to block certain kinds of traffic. They'll find it much easier to demand tariff payments or even out-and-out bribes from individual Internet services and individual Web sites.

Here in the United States, where we're already battling for net neutrality in the mobile space against the corporate (and often anti-user) interests of vendors like Verizon and AT&T, UN control of the Internet could give the telcos a foothold against unfettered freedom of communication.

So how is all this happening?

There is a meeting planned in December by the ITU where they intend to vote on these issues. Since many ITU member nations are for regime stability and against freedom, they're quite likely to vote for transfering Internet infrastructure control away from our current techie-committee structure and to regime-based governance.

They might be able to do it, too. There is a concept in international law known as "precatory regulation." Precatory regulations are suggestions (like "don't run with scissors") that sometimes have the force of law. Basically, UN treaty signatories agree to abide by UN laws, but the while the treaties are often trumped by individual laws in each land, by default most nations choose to abide by the regulations.

That's a very roundy-bouty way of saying that if the UN says it gets to do something, America will often -- but not always -- play along.

This ITU plan -- and, in your author's humble opinion -- all forms of Internet infrastructure filtering that violate net neutrality, are fundamentally dangerous to the Internet as a whole. If the ITU is allowed to gain regulatory control over the Internet, individual Internet users and the techies who know how to run it will no longer have a voice.

Instead, the people running the Internet will be politicians -- and often politicians from unfriendly foreigh nations, nations who don't actually like the very existence of the Internet.

Think about it this way. The Internet is the ultimate disintermediating technology. It's also the ultimate empowering technology. Some nations are strong enough in their values and their laws to want their citizens to have a voice and to be empowered. Many nations are not.

If the ITU seizes control of the Internet this December, they'll take the Internet from the voices of freedom and give it, lock-stock-and-IP-addresses, to the very nations who'd prefer to either kill it, or refashion it into another tool of state control.

I can't give you an easy answer solution for how to stop this thing, but a good place to start is by writing your Congress-critters or contacting the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Internet belongs to We The People. Let's not give it up to totalitarian regimes like China and Russia. Otherwise, what we chose to say may be ... [DELETED BY THE STATE].

See also:

UPDATE: Fixed name of ITU. Also, fixed the spelling of "scissors," because, well, the spelling brain doesn't seem to turn on until the third cuppa joe.

Topics: Censorship, Government, Government US, Privacy, Security, Telcos


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Tnx the best article i read from you!

    I live in IRAN and giving the control of Internet to a gov like ours would be a completely nightmare for us people ! now we can surf the net here and there with proxy or VPN, TOR etc! but giving the source to these bastards is the end of the game for us!
    USA plz take the source for yourself giving it away doesn't do anyone a good thing except those mullahs and communists and f*ks..
    • Plus you get all that free porn

      along with incest and bestiality and snuff films by the score. You just --know-- that's a helluva lot healthier and more *democratic* than anything those crazy mullah bastards might propose. They may not even wink to warez! :(

      Google is your friend, with no restraints in sight. Oh, and your kid's newfangled nanny!
      • What the f are you talking about?!

        i was saying you should not allow a radical political system like ours ever take a complete control of internet bcz in a system like this things are crazy! you can lose your life for blogging or posting in forums add it to blocked facebook,tweeter, youtube, news sites more than 70% of internet! and now you say

        "along with incest and bestiality and snuff films by the score"

        Have fun with your bestiality or whatever you do man just keep your distance!
        • You just haven't discovered all the Googleable possibilities yet

          Like we have. But you will genius. And so will your kids.

          Sweet dreams from across the pond.
          • does klumper needs a distemperment shot?

            G3niusOwl__ this klumper speaks ONLY for himself and really should keep it to yourself.
            By NO MEANS does he speak for me or 99.9999% of our American country.
            I'd wish for the elephants to treat him in reverse bestiality.
          • He has some points...

            I guess what he's saying that ultimate freedom is the two-sided weapon. It can save and it can destroy - in this case destroy morality of whole nation, generation... you pick. How to get around this problem? I guess there are no easy answers...
            Tomas M.
          • It is fear speaking

            What evidence is there that "ultimate freedom is a two sided weapon"? There is no proof of this because no nation has ever had citizens who lived with "absolute freedom."
          • free society

            I would offer up Deadwood S.D. as a totally free society, at least for a short period when it was founded.
          • klumper sounds like a troll

            for the UN and their agenda. How much are they paying him? Ridicule is the cheapest way to undermine the legitimate claims of those who oppose their agenda. Yes to the elephants... and greetings and best wishes to G3niusOwl.
            Too-Tired Techie
      • Ummm...I beg your pardon????

        What a bizarre statement. Sounds like you need to get your mind out of the gutter chum.
  • Slippery Slopes don't exist

    At least that's what you said in your post on marriage.

    Eat crow.
  • Please check ITU definition

    Hi David,

    ITU stands for International Telecommunications Union and not what you write.

    Kindly note that the internet as it is, is not exactly free anywhere in the world with all the filters and tracking of users' activities. It is just an illusion of freedom that keeps it going.

    Kind rgds
    • ITU fixed...

      Yep, you're right. That's what I get for writing before my second cup of coffee. Fixed.
      David Gewirtz
      • not pouring

        anything in that coffee? Last time when you goofed with the Apache versions (7 years apart) and publicly whined about it, you seemed to have been taking something stronger than coffee.
  • The pot calling the kettle, "black"

    Dear Mr. Gewirtz :

    While I sympathize with (and partly agree with) your concerns about the very real anti-democratic agendas behind some (not all) of the international moves to bring management of basic Internet decision-making (for example, IP address allocation, routing, etc.) under the purview of the ITU, I'm afraid that, as an American, you have zero credibility in this matter.

    The point is that someone has to -- the Net cannot, obviously, be managed by "nobody", just like the international phone network cannot be managed by "nobody"... if there were no basic standards, then you couldn't make a phone call from one country to another.

    The problem, essentially, boils down to : "if some truly neutral, international body (such as the ITU) does NOT manage the Internet, then... who DOES?" And as one would suspect, the stock, parochial American answer is, "why, the United States, with no third-party checks whatsoever on its management of basic Internet functions (for example, root DNS servers, etc.), should be put in permanent, unilateral control over the entire Net".

    This kind of self-serving agitprop might sound appealing to those of you who live in "God's Chosen Country"... but to those of us in the rest of the world, it is no more appealing than if any other one country (say, Russia, or China), were to assert the "right" to do exactly the same thing.

    That is, once we (for the sake of argument), assume that it's fine and dandy for a single national government to have exclusive, unilateral control over such a vital communications infrastructure, then why does it automatically follow that the government so empowered, would automatically be the United States? Why wouldn't it be India or China, both of which do have, or shortly will have, far more Internet users than the U.S.? Why not the E.U., with its large economy and super-national political system? Why not some kind of rotating management, where Brazil might be in charge "Year One", with (say) Indonesia in charge "Year Two", and so on?

    The bottom line here is, either the Internet will be managed multilaterally -- with all of the risks and shortcomings that this approach will inevitably entail -- or it will be managed unilaterally; but if the latter, then it is nothing but pompous, arrogant, self-serving delusion for Americans to think that their country, and only their country, will be made the "manager". I would suggest that a far more appropriate course of action would be to work within the ITU (or whatever other multilateral body) to ensure that some reasonable rules be grandfathered and that there is a mechanism to protect human rights and freedom of communications.

    America does not have the power to force the rest of the world to continue to do America's bidding, either on this matter or on many, many other fronts (climate change being a good example). You Americans would be well-advised to cut a deal, while you still can.


    A Non-American
    • Because we invented it

      An American
      • We'll Just Take The WWW Back Then

        as Tim B-L invented it and you're being like that. You can have the WWW back when you apologise.

        No offence but I agree with AngerNotManaged - the only people that think the US is a fair and democratic oversight body for the web must be american. Much better to give it to a multilateral body with accountability to more than one country. I'd do it but I''m a bit busy for the rest of the year at Her Majesty's Pleasure.
        Little Old Man
        • Help yourself. No one needs www.

          Oh an the internet isnt managed by the US right now. It's doing just fine and has no need for any UN parties to step in and botch things up. Let them go on with putting brutal genocidal dictators in charge of human rights commitees and rapists on peace keeper missions and back room corruption to circumvent their own sanctions for the finanicial gain of their own representatives and all the other disgusting crap that has become the only thing theyve done for the last few decades. They are no longer useful in any sense of their original charter.
          Johnny Vegas
          • The only thing todd's buttocks invented

            Was his stale imagination.

            Isn't that right, buttocks bui?
            Cylon Centurion
          • and I came out of those gorgeous buttocks

            Cylo‭n Centurion