Published on TheHill.com on November 27, 2012
Next week, the United Nations’ attempt to take over the Internet will move into high gear when the International Telecommunications Union meets in Dubai with representatives from 193 countries to craft a new governing structure for the Internet. The meetings are expected to last two weeks.
If you haven’t heard about this issue, there’s a reason. The negotiators have kept the tightest possible lid on their discussions to prevent word of the regulatory proposals from leaking out.
Indeed, the negotiations were totally secret until two George Mason University researchers, Jerry Brito and Eli Dourado, created a website called WCITLeaks.org and invited anyone with access to documents outlining the U.N. proposals to post them online. On June 12, 2012, an anonymous leaker posted a 212-page memo detailing the status of the negotiations and the proposed terms of the treaty.
This information has not been officially or authoritatively available, despite the fact that the conference convenes next week.
But the first reports are horrific. Vinton Cerf, one of the founders of the Web and currently a vice president of Google, warns that “the open Internet has never been at higher risk than it is now.” He adds, “If all of us do not pay attention to what’s going on, users worldwide will be at risk of losing the open and free Internet.”
The very concept of U.N. control of the Web is horrible. The U.N. is corrupt and biased in favor of authoritarian regimes. But this particular regulatory proposal is even worse. It takes the leading force for democracy in the world today — the Internet — and could transform it into an instrument for propaganda and oppression.
Its most obnoxious feature would let countries censor websites that originate within their borders and force Internet users to pay a high fee for accessing foreign sites. If adopted, this provision would erect a wall of user fees, keeping people from viewing foreign sites and leaving Chinese and Russian users only a government-censored product to read.
The draft treaty stipulates that the U.N. will assign e-names and provide host governments with names along with IP addresses, which will let them identify dissidents.
Congress needs to speak up. With a new secretary of State coming up for Senate confirmation, the conservatives on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee need to ask the designee whether he or she approves of these secret negotiations and press him or her on the question of U.N. regulation of the Internet.
The proposed treaty stems from an initiative by Russia and China to restrict the Internet. It appears to have been the brainchild of Russian President Vladimir Putin. After a 2011 meeting with Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré of the International Telecommunications Union — the U.N. agency to be vested with control of the Web — Putin turned vocabulary on its head, saying “if we are going to talk about democratization of international relations, I think a critical sphere is information exchange and global control over such exchange.” How Internet regulation would “democratize” things, he did not explain.
Touré, a native of Mali, is the ideal person to suit Putin’s objectives. If Putin was seeking the right man for the job of controlling the Internet, Touré is it. He studied at the Technical Institute of Electronics and Telecommunications in Leningrad and got his master’s and doctorate from the Moscow Technical University of Communications and Informatics.
Before we give him control over the Internet, we are entitled to ask why Soviet Russia would want to help a young man from Mali gain expertise in telecommunications, electronics and “informatics.” We can only speculate, but the thought is not comforting.
We need Congress to step up and fight against U.N. control of the Internet. Even without these terrible provisions, the very concept of U.N. regulation of this free medium is repugnant.
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