The United Nations Should Stay Away From the Internet
Last week the Internet was abuzz with the idea that some countries were proposing that the U.N. should take over management of the Internet. Later this year in Dubai, at a meeting of the International Telecommunications Union, the technology arm of the U.N., a plan will be debated that would allow this international body to take over some control of the Internet. According to the Associated Press on June 23, 2102, “Secret negotiations among dozens of countries preparing for a United Nations summit could lead to changes in a global treaty that would diminish the Internet's role in economic growth and restrict the free flow of information.”
Allowing the U.N. or some member countries to manage the Internet could result in a myriad of problems. As people often quip, if something is not broken, there is no need to fix it. As Ariel Rabkin told The Weekly Standard in 2009, “The management of the Domain Name System has been largely apolitical, and most of the disputes that have arisen have been of interest only to insiders and the technology industry. IANA [Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, operated on behalf of the Commerce Department] has concerned itself with fairly narrow questions like ‘Should we allow names ending in .info?"’ Commercial questions about ownership of names, like other property disputes, are settled in national courts.’” Rabkin as noted that allowing international government bodies to manage the internet could result in more problems like such as “Domain names presenting political questions. Which side in a civil war should control Pakistan's Internet domain. . . ” and the “Control of Internet names could become a lever to impose restrictions on Internet content.”
Besides the current system working, the current management of the internet is largely left to a nonprofit private organization known as ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) which was created to oversee a number of Internet-related tasks previously performed by the U.S. government. This body is independent of the government and benefits from being managed by a 16 member Board of Directors, with an international make-up. This structure works and provides for a robust process for input from users, something the U.N. governance would surely fall short on.
The most compelling argument against any government or bureaucratic takeover of the Internet is what happened in Egypt in January 2011 when the government denied Internet access to its citizens in the wake of their revolution. According to a January 28, 2011 article in the New York Times, “Autocratic governments often limit phone and Internet access in tense times. But the Internet has never faced anything like what happened in Egypt on Friday, when the government of a country with 80 million people and a modernizing economy cut off nearly all access to the network and shut down cellphone service.” The article went on to note that, “In the Internet era, governments have found many ways to control the flow of information — or at least to try to do so — by interfering with digital communications or limiting them.” International control over the Internet (as described by Putin) could destroy the Internet as we know it.
Allowing the U.N. to regulate large portions of the Internet and allowing free speech and respecting the international rule of law are values that most international uses respect and have come to expect from their use of the Internet. Changing the management when there have been no serious complaints about American stewardship of the Internet, no actual abuses perpetrated by American overseers, is a solution in search of a problem.