November 13, 2005

About That Nov. 16-18 UN Internet Conference in Tunisia (UN-EU takeover attempt)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:45 am

Welcome InstaPundit readers! Also check out this post that updates the events and political machinations that have continued in the Kelo case since the Supreme Court handed down its infamous eminent-domain decision.
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

To Kofi Annan and the other snakes who say that authority over the Internet “should be shared with the international community” (i.e., “surrendered unilaterally”), even while conceding that “The United States …. has exercised its oversight responsibilities fairly and honorably,” I say:

Wayne
Ya want it?
Just try to come and get it!
Better yet–Build your own.

DETAILED POST:

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Conference will take place in Tunisia this coming Wednesday through Friday (Nov. 16-18).

It has become very clear in the past few months that the European Union and the United Nations intend to use this conference to attempt to intimidate the United States into changing how the Internet is governed and managed.

The biggest concerns over changing how things are done now are:

  • Human rights will sufferThe concern (near end at link) is that an alternative governance and management regime might be hostile to fundamental human rights. The worries are not unfounded. A prominent press freedom group based in Paris(!) has strong reservations about changing the current operation and control structure:

    Those who oppose U.N. or other multilateral control note that some of the governments pushing hardest for a change are also the world’s most repressive when it comes to preventing free speech on the Internet.
    “Do we really want the countries that censor the Internet and throw its users in prison to be in charge of regulating the flow of information on it?” the independent media group Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) asked Thursday, citing China, Cuba and others.
    The Paris-based organization also rejected the E.U. suggestion, calling it “too vague to be a credible alternative.”
    “It has to be admitted that the U.S. has managed to develop the Internet without major problems and that it broadly respects online freedom of expression,” it said.
    “So let us hope an acceptable compromise – that reduces government intervention to a minimum and guarantees freedom of expression – will be found at the WSIS.
    “If not, it would be best to leave things as they are.”

    It’s worth noting that the European Union’s initial offensive to browbeat the US into changing its current Internet role, as the UK TimesOnline notes, “received the backing of states known to stifle free speech.” And how about a French-based organization in the heart of the EU admitting that we’re doing a good job with the Internet?

  • (The implied evil of) American “unilateralism” (when it is this unilateralism that has taken the Internet to its current remarkable state)–This isn’t an issue as much as it is an emotional appeal. Responding to this, US Ambassador David A. Gross, the senior diplomat representing the US at the upcoming conference, says that he consulted intensely (link requires subscription) with governments and industry before the US Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issued its four perfectly reasonable principles of Internet governance in June (original not numbered; full text of the fourth principle is provided for clarity; my comments are in italics):
    1. The United States Government intends to preserve the security and stability of the Internet’s Domain Name and Addressing System (DNS). (No other entity can credibly make this guarantee.)
    2. Governments have legitimate interest in the management of their country code top level domains (ccTLD). (Of course they do, and no one is in their way, as long as they don’t mess with “security and stability.”)
    3. ICANN is the appropriate technical manager of the Internet DNS. (Is anyone claiming that ICANN isn’t doing its job well, or that it’s suffering from interference in carrying out its mission? I didn’t think so.)
    4. Dialogue related to Internet governance should continue in relevant multiple fora. Given the breadth of topics potentially encompassed under the rubric of Internet governance there is no one venue to appropriately address the subject in its entirety. While the United States recognizes that the current Internet system is working, we encourage an ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders around the world in the various fora as a way to facilitate discussion and to advance our shared interest in the ongoing robustness and dynamism of the Internet. In these fora, the United States will continue to support market-based approaches and private sector leadership in Internet development broadly. (We’ll talk about anything relating to how the Internet is managed and how to further develop it, just not about how it is governed. The thing that REALLY bothers those who want to usurp Internet governance is the language in this fourth principle on markets and the private sector, i.e., NOT meddling governments.)
  • Substance (us) vs. process (them)–To quote the previously linked WSJ piece: “Europeans tend to value process more, while Americans prefer results. The EU itself was born out of a process whose aim was to prevent new war in Europe and, thus, the EU is valued for its own sake irrespective of its inefficiencies. Americans find it difficult to love multilateral bodies that don’t produce results — or might endanger achievement. You can’t come up with more succinct statement of our fundamental differences, or in the current situation, a better reason NOT to allow anyone from the EU or the UN to get their grubby “consensus-driven” hands on something as important as the inner workings of the Internet.

What will happen if, as expected, the US stares down the world’s interlopers in Tunisia? The Cassandras would have you believe that the world will devolve into a Babel-like collection of “multiple Internets” if the current dispute isn’t resolved. Bryan Carney at OpinionJournal.com essentially says “let them go” (link may require registration), and that mutual self-interest will prevent the feared communications nightmare:

The U.S. government has led many to believe that this is equivalent to dismantling the Internet itself. But it is bluffing.
Here’s how it might work. At some point, China will grow tired of the U.S. refusal to give up control to the U.N., and it will secede from the status quo. It will set up its own root server, tweaked to allow access only to those sites the government deems nonthreatening, and simply order every Internet service provider in the country to use it instead of Icann’s. The change will be seamless to most users, but China will have set up its own private Net, one answerable to the people’s revolutionaries rather than to the U.S. Commerce Department.
Others may follow suit. Root servers could spring up in France, or Cuba, or Iran. In time, the Internet might look less like the Internet and more like, say, the phone system, where there is no “controlling legal authority” on the international level. More liberal-minded countries would probably, if they did adopt a local root-server, allow users to specify which server they wanted to query when typing in, say, Microsoft.com.
As a technical means of content control, going “split root,” as they say in the business, is too compelling for governments not to give it a try. But the user experience would likely be much the same as it ever was most of the time. ISPs, as well as most vaguely democratic governments, would have an interest in ensuring broad interoperability, just as no one in Saudi Arabia or China has yet decided that dialing +1-202-456-1414–the White House switchboard number–from those countries should go somewhere else, like Moammar Gadhafi’s house. Nothing stops phone companies from doing things like that, except that the market expects a certain consistency in how phone calls are directed, so it is in the interests of the operators to supply what the market expects. The same principle would apply in a split-root world.
Would it be better if countries that want to muck around with the Net just didn’t? Sure. But they do want to, and they will, and it would be far better, in the long run, if they did so on their own, without a U.N. agency to corrupt or give them shelter. It’s time to drop the apocalyptic rhetoric about a split root file and start looking beyond the age of a U.S.-dominated Internet. Breaking up is hard to do, but in this case, the alternative would be worse.

I agree. A fragmented (but not for long) Internet beats a UN-controlled Internet by a mile.
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UPDATE: As I have noted before (outdated or unavailable links have been updated), I would expect a UN-controlled Internet to have:

UPDATE 2: Instapundit notes that Tunisia has “set the tone” for the conference by shutting down Internet dissent. And Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman is afraid the conference will turn into a “digital Munich” (HT CyberLawHarvard).

UPDATE 3: Instapundit updates with links to this great op-ed piece by Arch Puddington of Freedom House (“Keep the Internet Free”) and a succinct WaPo letter to the editor (“The Internet Is in Good Hands”).

UPDATE 4, Dec. 4: S.O.B. Alliance member NixGuy finds (and translates) the letter from Condi Rice to EU President Jack Straw that staked out the US position on Internet governance. The result was that the EU stuck with the US position after months of making noises about contesting it.
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Other reading matter:

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10 Comments

  1. I don’t think ICANN is doing a particularly good job, but there is no question but that the European and UN proposals would be worse.

    And it’s all nonsense anyway. Anyone can set up their own root server at any time. What matters is whether you can persuade people to use it. As John Wayne says, “Ya want it? Build your own.” Of course, since there is already a system in place that works just fine, you’re going to have to be awfully persuasive.

    Comment by Pixy Misa — November 13, 2005 @ 7:19 pm

  2. This just in from the Dutch wire, rough translation.

    Hamelink no longer adviser to Anann

    AMSTERDAM – [Dutch] Professor [from Amsterdam] Cees Hamelink has resigned as personal adviser to UN-Secretary General Kofi Annan. He disagrees about the UN organising a conference on the information society in Tunesia. In [Dutch daily] the Volkskrant he says on monday that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are essential for the exchange of information.

    By holding the conference in a country where human rights are abused, the UN doesn’t take the subject seriously, he says.

    De conference will be held in Tunis next week. Annan hasn’t reacted yet on the resignation of Hamelink.

    Comment by Tijmen — November 13, 2005 @ 7:57 pm

  3. The real issue isn’t about other countries being able to spin off and create their own subnets. They can do that now and there is nothing the US can do about it. What they want is for the US to cede control of its own internal net to them, and hopefully this will never happen. If it did I imagine the UN would use it as a revenue source, with sites in the wealthier countries paying rather outrageous fees to renew their registrations. And even worse, they would probably create a mechanism for people or governments to file complaints against sites that had content they objected to in which case trying to access say islam_sucks.net (I made this up) you would be directed to a page on a server that would inform you that the site was unavailable because it failed to pay a judgment rendered against it in Pakistan for the offense of defaming the Prophet Mohammed.

    The rest of the world does not really wish to be cut off from net access to the world’s largest economy. This is why they haven’t already split off. But with such a connection comes access to information which a lot of countries don’t want their citizens to have, and this is a price they don’t want to pay. I have no sympathy for them.

    Comment by tcobb — November 13, 2005 @ 9:02 pm

  4. #2, good to see Dutch spine, esp in light of the (IMO) silly United Smile campaign I read about yesterday. Go to near the end of this post if you don’t know what I’m referring to.

    #3–Bullseye.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 13, 2005 @ 9:31 pm

  5. [...] Why Not the UN?

    Next week, a special conferene will be convened by the UN regarding the Internet.  As if to be ironic, it will be held in Tunisia, which is preparing for the event by [...]

    Pingback by The Ratnest » Blog Archive » Why Not the UN? — November 14, 2005 @ 1:03 am

  6. [...] nternet The bastion of free markets and democracies known as the United Nations wants to wrest control of the Internet away from the country that invented it, the United States. The host countr [...]

    Pingback by Swanky Conservative » Blog Archive » The United Nations wants the Internet — November 14, 2005 @ 12:13 pm

  7. [...] ate Two interesting links about the internet tonight: One to the instapundified bizzyblog who is expecting the gauntlet to be thrown down in the next few days in Tunisia for the WSIS. Slashdot [...]

    Pingback by NixGuy.com » Blog Archive » Internet Governance Update — November 14, 2005 @ 7:59 pm

  8. “The European Union criticizes the present state of affairs but – typically – offers no alternative other than echoing the UN. The UN is clamoring that the Internet must be controlled by an international body. Unfortunately, the more vocal nations on this issue are China, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe, &c… you see my point.”…

    Comment by Captain Marlow — November 16, 2005 @ 7:45 am

  9. Control of Internet?

    Tunisia has been in the news recently. It is holding the World Summit on the Information Society. One of the issues at stake there is who gets to control the internet? More specifically, who controls the DNS systems that is very vital the functioning…

    Trackback by Corelations — November 17, 2005 @ 8:01 pm

  10. Look at the Balkans and other dubious U.N. “successes”, just imagine them managing the ICANN servers. With such a record, the U.N. shouldn’t even be handling child safe scissors.

    Might poke their collective eyes out.

    Icepick the Mad!

    Comment by Icepick the Mad! — June 27, 2006 @ 11:57 pm

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