Friends of freedom breathed a sigh of relief last November when the World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis came to a close without control of the Internet being ceded to a collection of foreign governments under the auspices of the United Nations.
Although the international confabulation was unsuccessful in wresting control from the U.S.-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — a quasi-governmental non-profit organization — Tunis was just the opening gambit in the UN’s drive for control. We face a long, drawn out battle to preserve the freedom and independence of the World Wide Web.
The opposition of the Bush administration to turning the Net over to the tender mercies of the UN and such bastions of liberty as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia was enough to block the globalist mischief in Tunis. But the UN bureaucrats and their allies in Europe and the so-called "developing world" have not folded their tents. Instead, the summit in Tunis produced a permanent standing body, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to keep the pressure on, to keep working to undermine the American position and wrest control of the Net. The IGF is set to hold its inaugural organizational meeting in Geneva February 16-17. It’s expected to start holding regular conferences starting this summer in Greece. The UN, therefore, is planning on a prolonged campaign to achieve its objective.
It’s hardly a mystery why the UN, the EU and their global allies want to seize control of the Internet. As we are witnessing in China today with massive government censorship of Google, Yahoo, Cisco and other Internet companies, repressive governments view the Net with fear and loathing. The Internet is a revolutionary medium for the free, unfettered flow of information, a hugely liberating engine of free speech and commerce. Dictators, autocrats, Islamofacists, Maoist and Marxist regimes — all want to control and censor the Net in their countries, restrict information and access, suppress dissent and squelch speech.
Others look at the booming commerce on the Internet and salivate for a piece of the action, longing to tax web-based commercial activity as the next golden goose to be led to slaughter. The UN in particular wants to tax the Internet to create the independent stream of revenue the bureaucrats at Turtle Bay long have lusted after to free the UN from having to solicit voluntary contributions from member states.
Whatever different motives animate these various interests in their drive to seize control of the Internet, they all have one thing in common: all resent what they perceive as U.S. "control" of the worldwide web. The common refrain goes like this: Why should any one nation control a medium that is truly global in nature? It isn’t fair.
The U.S. does not, of course, "control" the Internet. ICANN simply keeps the cyber trains running on time. ICANN is not a gatekeeper. It doesn’t pick and choose who gets to go on the Net and who doesn’t. It doesn’t censor content. ICANN is nominally under the authority of the Department of Commerce, but the operating agreement expires in November and the non-profit corporation is likely to be privatized, cutting all its tenuous ties to the federal government.
Anti-American envy and resentment, rather than any really serious problems with ICANN’s management, is the driving force behind the UN campaign to hand control of the Net over to a gaggle of governments run by a rogue’s gallery of despots, kleptocrats, mullahs and Maoists. As for the incessant whining about American dominance of the Internet, ICANN already has significant foreign representation on its governing board.
The Internet Governance Forum has been set up as the agent to affect the handover of control to the UN. The UN and its allies were well aware in the run-up to the summit in Tunis that they could wrest control from the U.S. in a single coup de main. So they will keep the issue alive by means of the IGF, which will hold meetings in plush resort destinations, produce policy papers, maintain a web site wherein the anti-American mob can massage its imagined grievances, and generally seek to grind down U.S. opposition. Doubtlessly, the UN forces will drag things out with a view toward 2008 and the hope that Hillary Clinton will take up residence in the White House. Since Bill Clinton and his sidekick Al Gore gave us the World Summit on the Information Society, from whence all this current mischief issues, President Hillary could be expected to look more favorably on turning the Internet over to the global village.
But it doesn’t take a village to run the Internet. It’s doing just fine, thank you, without the ministrations of the UN. The U.S. invented the Internet and generously made the technology available to the world. Today, more than 1 billion routinely use the Internet and the worldwide web promises to be nearly as revolutionary as the printing press. Whatever technical challenges the Internet faces as it enters its second decade the problems will not be resolved by handing it over the same crowd that brought us the oil-for-food scandal.