UN: We Are the World (Wide Web)

Get ready, world: The folks who brought you the oil-for-food program are about to vote themselves control of the Internet.

This drama unfolds starting November 16, as 10,000 people from 70 countries are expected to pour into Tunis, Tunisia, for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which is organized by the ITU, a UN agency.  There, countries like Russia, China and Iran will insist that the United States surrender control of the Domain Name System. An international network, they will argue, deserves international control.

There’s just one problem. The United States doesn’t really “control” the Internet==nobody does, which is why repressive regimes want to give the dictator-friendly UN a crash course in Internet governance.

The United States does control the Domain Name System (DNS) and certain root name servers that sit atop the Internet, directing traffic.  However, the U.S. Department of Commerce has delegated coordination and management of these to ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a tiny California-based international nonprofit that is the technical body tasked with making the Internet run smoothly.

Earlier this year, citing national security concerns, the Commerce Department announced it would retain control of DNS indefinitely, rather than hand it over to ICANN as previously planned.  Businesses, web surfers and anyone who just typed “democracy” into a search engine in China should be delighted by this unrepentant act of blatant unilateralism.

While dictators imagine that UN control would help them quash dissident speech on the Internet, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sees the Internet as a source of evergreen funding.  If the UN can sell some excuse for taxing the Internet (e.g., helping poor rural villagers get laptops), it can free itself from relying on member states for dues, thereby becoming even less accountable. The UN has proposed taxing the Internet before (a scheme to tax email failed), and Annan believes this opportunity is worth fighting for.

Witness his recent op-ed in the Washington Post, in which he addressed “a growing chorus of misinformation” about the summit: “One mistaken notion is that the United Nations wants to ‘take over,’ police or otherwise control the Internet.” he wrote.  “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

Oh really?  Anyone who has read the Plan of Action released by the UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) knows the UN is deadly serious about controlling how, where, when, why, and by whom the Internet is used (If I forgot any ways, let me count them again).  The plan’s 10 goals provide a roadmap to pieces, which is what the Internet would be in if they ever started hammering it into their template for world government.

Handing control of the Internet to any bureaucratic organization is a dubious proposition, and doubly so when that organization is the United Nations, a place that sees no hypocrisy in letting terror-sponsor Libya chair its top human rights commission.

Also, can bureaucrats who start each workday by asking their secretaries to “print out the email” tread lightly on technology?  And why should the fairly limited oversight and coordination functions required to run this global network be scrapped in favor of any unproven bureaucratized model?

The Domain Name System must be retained by the United States if the Internet is to escape the bureaucratization and politicization that is anathema to its growth and proven success as a democratizing influence.  If this means the World Summit on the Information Society fails, so be it.