Every voice counts on the Net

The Internet is inherently global and so, must belong to the global community. Or doesn't it?
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

The Internet is inherently global and so, must belong to the global community. Or doesn't it?

Oxford Dictionaries and Merriam-Webster define the Internet as "an international information network" and one that connects computer systems and facilities "around the world". Neither identified a particular country or even a community, as the sole proprietor of the Web.

International organizations such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IEEE), are tasked to oversee and administer overall operations of the Web including the technical standardization and assignment of IP addresses.

But while these industry bodies represent and work toward the interests of the global Web community, some governments have taken it upon themselves to decide what they think is best for cyberspace.

Specifically, the United States government last year succeeded in its bid to stop the ICANN from creating an .xxx domain after the Bush administration sent a letter voicing its concerns.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act suggest the ICANN had bowed under political pressures, according to the Internet Government Project, which is a consortium of academics and experts on Internet policy.

The group noted: "Even with the major redactions, these documents show how U.S. supervision of ICANN was influenced by domestic political pressure generated by the Religious Right [wing]." It further added that the U.S. government "has been the most aggressive--and effective--at imposing its political agenda on ICANN".

While the U.S. government has since agreed to relinquish some control to allow ICANN to become a more global organization, the Bush administration is determined to retain control of the root servers--or, at least in the foreseeable future.

Regardless, it is an important step forward--that the United States has now finally realized it cannot control, or attempt to control, the Web and its development.

As early as 2001, professor of law at Stanford law School Lawrence Lessig, had written a paper titled The Internet under siege which discussed the dangers of letting "courts and corporations" dictate how the Web should be managed. "In doing so, they are destroying the Internet's potential to foster democracy and economic growth worldwide," Lessig said.

The Internet is inherently global and must, therefore, be allowed to thrive under an international forum. The sooner the U.S. fully comprehends that, the better it is for the rest of the online community.

But while no single voice can claim ownership of the Web, every voice counts--no matter how small.

So it is great to see that the debate over .xxx domains is likely to resurface, and even more awesome to watch two non-U.S. IT journos seek a right to be counted.

Isn't it time for the Internet to be truly global?

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