On Nov. 16, the World Summit on the Information Society opened to much fanfare. The stated intent of the summit is to expand access to the Internet for millions of impoverished people around the globe. Yet that goal has been overshadowed by a fight over who would ultimately control the internet.
Currently, assignment of domain names and basic administrative functions for the web rests in the hands of a semi-private organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. This organization enjoys privileged status as a privately owned regulatory agency inside the U.S. ICANN has done an admirable job in running the Internet as the World Wide Web has seen an exponential increase in use over the past two decades.
Despite the success of the current system, there are many countries in the international community that want to change this arrangement for their benefit. Countries such as China and Cuba have been pushing the U.S. to turn over control of the internet to an international body.
This is worrisome, since many of the countries that would be involved in running the internet under such a system are not friends of democracy and are certainly not amenable to the free-wheeling discourse that the Internet has come to embody. China and Cuba especially are famous for their suppression of free speech, both on and off the Internet. In China, citizens cannot access websites that are not pre-approved by the Chinese government. Approved websites certainly do not include foreign press or human rights organization websites.
That the U.S. and freedom lovers everywhere had much to fear from the Information Society summit is displayed by the location of the summit itself, in Tunis, Tunisia. Tunisia has its own problems with human rights, and on the first day of the summit, Tunisian security forces manhandled foreign journalists who were covering a related meeting of Tunisian free speech advocates.
Doubtless, countries with such exemplary human rights records as these would love to control who could establish web sites. It takes little imagination to realize that opponents of despotic regimes the world over would find it nearly impossible to get permission to establish a web site from the very people they are trying to overthrow. An international body controlling the internet would quickly devolve into the same absurdity of U.N. Human Rights Commission, which is headed by such human rights luminaries as Sudan, Libya and Syria.
The E.U., which appears to have a compulsive need to undermine the U.S., initially supported the attempts to internationalize the governance of the internet. However, an agreement reached shortly before the summit began took the topic of internet governance off the table for the time being.
Thankfully, the U.S. has held firm in its determination to retain control of the internet. We certainly do not need a corrupt and inept organization such as the U.N. taking control of the newest frontier of free speech. The U.S. should resist all future efforts by despotic regimes to take control over the internet. The Internet and the freedom that it brings to people the world over is in safe hands and should stay that way.
Sean Paroski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.