Signs of the apocalypse: UN control of the Internet
The Internet, currently loosely regulated by 7 non-governmental organizations, has informed me that House law makers are hearing an international proposal this week that would give the United Nations control more over the Internet. The proposal is backed by Russia, China, Brazil, India, and other UN member nations and is unpopular on both sides of the US Congress.
According to Larry Strickling, head of the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the measure would expose the Internet to “top-down regulation where it’s really the governments that are at the table, but the rest of the stakeholders aren’t.” Specifically, the proposal would give the UN’s governing bodies more control over cybersecurity, data privacy, technical standards and the Web’s address system. Additionally, government-owned Internet providers would be permuted to charge extra for international web traffic. Regardless of US approval, the proposal is expected to be up for vote this December.
Prominent figures have begun releasing op-eds naysaying the regulation of the Internet by the UN and we agree with much of the opposition’s perspective. Vinton Cerf, widely recognized as one of the fathers of the Internet, says that such a move would be “hazardous” for the future of the Internet and its users. He suggests that giving the UN control over the Internet in this manner would lead not only to abuses of human rights through the further limitation of free-speech but would also stunt innovation. Proponents of the proposal cite security issues but severely downplay the benefits of the Internet for economies and education. Putting limits on the open system will undoubtedly cause harm to the Internet as we know it.
That aside, there are some HUGE red-flags on this proposal that I think we should all be aware of. First, the major proponents of the measure are nations well known for human rights violations and for limiting free-speech within their borders. At the risk of sounding biased I am vaguely suspicious of any proposal which is primarily backed by those pedagogues of civil liberties, Russia and China. Second, I think we should consider that there are currently 7 non-governmental organizations regulating various aspects of the Internet and that on top of that countries reserve some right to censor incoming content. That’s an awful lot of eyes and ears on the Internet already not to mention a whole hell of a lot of bureaucracy. Increasing regulation, as with many things, decreases innovation simply by adding paper work. Not. A. Fan.
Of course, not all bureaucracy is created equal. The UN can create comities at the rate germs multiple but very really do those committees ever get around to achieving very much. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the UN may well be the slowest moving, most inefficient governing body currently on this planet. Too bad the whole point of the Internet is that it is an efficient form of communication, information gathering, and innovation.
Enough nit-picking. My final concern with this particular measure is the clause allowing government-owned Internet providers to charge extra for international web traffic. Under such a system countries could effectively create insular web-communities by making the cost of accessing foreign Internet content so high as to be prohibitive for the average consumer. That means that countries like China could ensure that their citizens are unable to access web content from anywhere outside of China effectively returning the country’s communications channels to the days of snail mail. The very idea makes me rather faint if you must know.
Preventing the free decimation of information would effectively curtail society as we know it, leaving us to have to “trust” our elected officials and traditional news sources at face value. There simply would be no other option unless you had the means to order foreign newspapers and read extensively. I’m going to call this phenomena the re-gentrification of information. Even 100 years ago the majority of people who had time to theorize, to come up with new ideas, to challenge authority already had authority themselves. They were educated and had significant free time. Now everyone has access to a holistic education should they chose to seize it and I just don’t want to see that go away.
Here’s hoping that December doesn’t bring us an Internet apocalypse now that the Mayan apocalypse is out.