While talk of the United States tumbling over a so-called “fiscal cliff” dominates news cycles in the nation’s capital and other major cities, on the other side of the planet, the United Nations is quietly but relentlessly pressing to take control of the Internet. It is being aided in this illicit endeavor by various totalitarian regimes, and by many smaller states that routinely use their strength in numbers to bash America.
The vehicle chosen by the internationalists for this power grab is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), one of the many aged bureaucracies that long ago lost any degree of relevance in the modern world. ITU members, including the United States, are meeting in Dubai this week and next to consider the future of the “open Internet.” No good can come of this project, but the American representatives – as befitting the Obama Administration’s penchant for vagueness and conciliation in international affairs – has been less than aggressive in opposing the ITU’s brazen effort to gain control of the Internet.
In a single generation, the Internet has given to virtually every person on the face of the earth the ability to communicate with fellow human beings on virtually any topic, at any time, and in every nook and cranny on the globe. This magnificent invention has done this without succumbing to government control. The “open Internet” – reflecting standards and protocols set by the non-governmental Internet Society -- truly is “open”; and it is from this openness and independence from government that it derives its great power. Make the Internet subject to control by government, either directly or indirectly through meddling international bureaucracies, and it will quickly lose its magic and its inherent power to inform.
Yet this is exactly what ITU members such as China, Russia, Syria, North Korea and Saudi Arabia are attempting to accomplish in Dubai. They must not be allowed to succeed.
None of these governments admits publicly that among the real reasons they seek to vest control of the Internet in the United Nations, is to control the substance of information transmitted over it. They claim benign motives, such as seeking to protect the world’s citizens from terrorists and other “evil” persons and entities using the Internet to do harm. In typical U.N. double-speak, ITU's top official, Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré, attempted to allay concerns by claiming the organization he heads is seeking only to institute “light touch” regulation.
“Light touch,” indeed. It’s all about taxation and control. When was the last time Beijing used a “light touch” in quelling hints of political dissent? How light is Putin’s “touch” in making sure political adversaries are railroaded into long prison terms? And, if Syria’s Assad is “lightly” responding to political dissent in his country, what would a “strong touch” look like?
According to L. Gordon Crovitz, writing recently in the Wall Street Journal,proposals being considered by the ITU to regulate the Internet run to more than 200 pages; and include such measures as so-called “sender-party-pays” rules. Such requirements, if implemented, would diminish much of the Internet’s utility in providing a means for users to communicate from one country to another, because such international communications would be subject to a fee from the originating country to the receiving country.
As noted also by Crovitz, other countries pressing for Internet control want the ITU to be able to monitor Internet traffic through their countries; obviously as a means to censor such communications and identify “troublemakers.”
At a time when the United States ought to be openly and loudly condemning moves to control the Internet, the best the top State Department delegate to the Dubai conference reportedly could muster, was a meek excuse that the U.S. has to be measured in its criticism of the ITU’s power grab, because “we don’t want to come across like we’re preaching to others.”
With such namby-pamby representation as this, the Republicans in the Congress need to align themselves with the Internet Society, privacy advocates, and major tech companies such as Google and Facebook, and do what the Obama Administration is afraid to do -- quickly and forcefully act to protect the independence of the Internet from the grasping hands of international bureaucrats and totalitarian regimes everywhere.