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  • A U.N. Internet Governance Power Grab?

    At the Internet Governance Forum meeting earlier this week in Vilnius, Lithuania, Rod Beckstrom, President and Chief Executive Officer of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) expressed his concern and worry about efforts by some governments to constrain the independence of the Internet at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly session.

    For those who are not familiar with ICANN, the organization is a nonprofit corporation charged with regulating and managing the Domain Name System under which Internet Protocol addresses and registration of top-level domains (such as .org and .com) are assigned. “Governance” of the medium has been historically minimal and led by non-governmental entities and overseen by the U.S. government, which has exercised a light regulatory touch. This freedom allowed the Internet to grow and develop at a truly remarkable pace.

    However, the United Nations has sought for some time to acquire authority over ICANN and the Internet, at the behest of a number of countries who wish to tax or regulate it. Last year, the Obama administration to decided to withdraw U.S. oversight and protection of ICANN on the justification that ICANN and the Internet had become too important internationally to be overseen by any one nation and reached agreement to affirm ICANN as “independent” and “not controlled by any one entity.”

    Unfortunately, that decision opened the door to U.N. interference on the basis that all nations have a stake in the medium. The Internet Governance Forum was created to “support the United Nations Secretary-General in carrying out the mandate from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)” to pursue 12 goals which include strengthening and enhancing “the engagement of stakeholders in existing and/or future Internet governance mechanisms, particularly those from developing countries” and finding “solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the Internet” and, of course, “proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world” and rallying critical resources for that purpose.

    While these goals are not inherently objectionable, many U.N. member states see them as opportunities for oversight by government of the internet, censorship, and transfer of resources from developed to developing countries. These topics will arise prominently during the General Assembly discussions this fall (17th on the provisional agenda).

    In his speech, Beckstrom clearly expresses concern over the possibility of U.N. governance of the Internet:

    The Internet has the power to transform the human experience. It enables communication on an unprecedented scale and is woven into billions of lives around the world. Its openness, its inclusiveness, its relative lack of regulation make it a fertile field for innovation and competition, an engine for much needed economic growth.

    Why mention inclusiveness? Because everyone using the Internet should and must have a voice in its governance.

    If governance were to become the exclusive province of nation states or captured by any other interests, we would lose the foundation of the Internet’s long-term potential and transformative value….

    Some want to bring Internet governance into the framework of intergovernmental organizations exclusively. What would that mean? Most Internet users – businesses, service providers, non-profits, consumers – would be shut out of the governance debate….

    The IGF derives its strength and legitimacy from its multistakeholder composition. Bringing it into a traditional intergovernmental framework would undermine what the UN itself has been pursuing in recent years: public, private and community partnerships.

    All stakeholders must make their views known to their respective governments; it is governments alone that will decide the future of this body at the UN General Assembly this fall….

    Together we can ensure that the Internet’s future rests in the hands of its most important constituency: the people.

    The Internet works. Let’s keep it that way.

    Granting the U.N. control and regulatory oversight of ICANN and the Internet would empower non-democratic countries that oppose the right to free speech such as China and grasping, anti-market impulses like those of the European Union to impose their policy, regulatory and political priorities on what has been a very successful free medium. The Obama administration should fight to preserve and protect the independence of ICANN and the Internet in the General Assembly this fall.

    Co-authored by James Gattuso.

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    12 Responses to A U.N. Internet Governance Power Grab?

    1. Pingback: assim não dá… | Blog da delegação brasileira no IGF

    2. Johann Wolfgang von says:

      When the member bodies of the UN are mostly tyranical dictators, why wouldn't they want to controll everything going on inside their borders, including all things pertaining to the internet? Big Brother IS indeed watching you!

    3. William Person says:

      1984 and Big Brother are only a few steps away. The biggest threat to governments and large institutions whose first loyalty is thier own survival is a free thinking population. Information is power. Governments "regulating" the flow of information is loss of power for the people!!!

    4. Don Harper says:

      I can think of no better example of the power of unregulated entities to create and prosper than the internet. America used to be that way, but starting with Woodrow Wilson, and accelerating through every administration since, we have been throwing up barriers to prosperity. The free market is no more.

    5. Dennis Georgia says:

      The goal of the UN is total controll over all. The dems, and obama will give all to them. The internet if controlled by the UN, will allow censorship of the very things we need, information on what is happening around the world. I do agree one must read with caution for much is not fact, much is opinion by many.

      We must not let this take over be accomplished. VOTE!!!!!

    6. Gregory Francis, Lon says:

      A beacon of transparency and true international cooperation packed up this week as participants in the 5th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) made their muted good-byes. No one is sure whether they will meet again next year or, if they do, under what circumstances. That’s because the UN is looking to fix the IGF, a puzzling task for the busy UN since the IGF is manifestly not broken.

      The New Commonwealth

      The IGF is rare among international organisations in that it is characterised by real cooperation, and a genuine interest in ensuring that the Internet becomes a tool that touches every life for the better. Some governments take part: they are interested in continuing the growth of the Internet as a pillar of transparency or “democratisation.” Industry participates because companies are building the Internet and providing its content, and they want governments to stay out of the way. User communities engage in pursuit of common standards, more accessibility, and special attributes that cater to constituencies who need particular attention. And they do it, all of them, with improbable civility, well-informed good humour, and a general spirit of co-operation.

      This co-operation is all the more unlikely since the IGF only came together when governments suspected that the G7, and the United States in particular, were exerting too much influence over the Internet. The annual IGF meeting was spawned, like some public policy manatee, without a discernible head or tail, fangs or paws, in an attempt to change that. As a consequence, the IGF has little order; there are no Communiqués, Work Programmes or Final Acts. Funding is voluntary. Anyone can participate. It was given a secretariat of two bodies, and a lifespan of five years.

      That’s Enough Democracy

      Those five years are up, and the UN is poised to assert more control. The General Assembly will shortly decide whether to renew the mandate of the IGF, or whether to bring it into the more rigid structure of the United Nations, where civil society and industry have no seat, and where the G7 have as much say over matters as the unelected representatives of places such as Myanmar, Brunei, or China. It is a fact that an environment where Brunei’s vote counts as much as Brazil’s, where geologic processes apply, and where committee structures are as numerous as they are cumbersome has not the least hope of keeping pace with technology and innovation that feed the development of the World Wide Web. So why is the UN getting involved, and does it really matter?

      Wake Up

      The decision of the General Assembly matters. It will create the framework within which the Internet will flourish or stagnate in the years to come. And on this point the IGF is clear. In the earnest language of confessions the world over, it has reaffirmed to its membership the value of what it has done and the breadth of what it can do. It has cleverly, and somewhat boldly, announced its next meeting in Nairobi in 2011. And why not? By declaring itself open for business, it sends the UN a message to keep things as they are, that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But broken is in the eye of the beholder, and certain governments are now squaring up to ensure that this functioning, equitable, open thing, the IGF and the Internet which it aims to keep safe, are better controlled from New York, and by extension from Harare, Pyongyang, and Beijing.

      Exit Strategy

      It is unclear at this point which way the General Assembly will go. But the IGF stakeholders with the wherewithal to do so must now turn from a consideration of the merits of IPv6 to more practical matters. They must begin to provide for the common defence of a free and unconstrained Internet and focus their efforts on New York.

      At the General Assembly they will need several tools. First, they will need champions. The US and other open societies must be energised to lead the way: they will need to talk to countries from all parts of the globe to ensure that there are many and divers voices raised in defence of the IGF. They need to communicate the risk of failure: UN representatives have a lot on their plate, but prioritising the IGF should not be left to disconnected diplomats more interested in vote swapping than in universal pluralism. Finally, when the IGF’s champions do get the attention of the national delegations in New York, they need a clear message: when the vote comes, Support the Status Quo. It is not enough to leave the charter of the IGF to the word smithing of untutored UN diplomats. When writing a Terms of Reference, the smallest detail can constrain a group in ways that can severely curtail its effectiveness. Any emerging drafts will require monitoring, and informed rebuttals. Governments that care, with the stakeholder community standing behind them, must work the issue.

      The Fault, Dear Brutus…

      If the IGF membership fails to organise itself quickly and effectively, there will be years of suffocating UN oversight to unwind – that is once promise the UN can deliver on. If it succeeds, however, the multi-stakeholder approach that has allowed the IGF to flourish would be brought to an untimely end by the very diversity it has come to champion.

    7. Leon Lundquist, Dura says:

      I smell a skunk. Governance of the Internet already exists, every 'stake holder' governs themselves. Let's begin the analysis at square one for a change, we don't need the World Government governating, governimizating, or governancing, however the Newspeak writers like to coin it. We are Self Governing, and that is not debatable (see, highest Law in the Land). Obama and fellow gangsters do not have the legal power that they have bargained away to their One World masters. We Americans do not have to abide by unlawful and Unconstitutional Treaties, especially in light of the fact Obama serves the Foreign Interest exclusively. Mr. Obama, just because you are a Traitor you cannot force me to become one.

    8. Charles N. King IV D says:

      Leave the internet alone. It does not need governance. Its success and the independence of ICANN have proved to the world what a free and neutral internet can and will accomplish. It's success without governmental or UN intrusion is its own testament.

      Lokk at what countries (China) that are inherrently nondemocratic have already tried to do by regulating content through contracts and deals with the large search engines. They have foisted censorship through their commercial dealings with supposedly free enterprise institutions. Regulation by the UN would only exacerbate these problems to an intolerable level .

    9. kt borland,NC says:

      So where is your petition,that could go out all over the world and peoples everywhere can sign,with their e-mail address????GET ON IT!!! Let me be the FIRST!!!!

    10. Denise, Utah says:

      That's the very problem with a big and bloated government. The elitists want to control every aspect of the lives of others. And I'm sure they are adding up all the revenues the internet will bring in to the government coffers. As soon as the government starts to regulate and tax segments of our economy, more problems arise. Then our "benevolent" political elitists pose solutions to the very problems they created through their meddling. Government does not fix problems, government creates problems. No!!!! to government interference on the internet!!! Government does NOT create wealth, government destroys wealth! Don't tread on me!!!!! Vote the miscreants out in November.

    11. Peter Thimmesch, Res says:

      The author is correct that the Obama administration released the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from the Joint Project Agreement (JPA) which was the framework for developing consensus bottom-up policy for use of Internet Resources (Domain Records, Protocols and Number Records).

      But the US Government did not relinquish ownership (yes, strange concept but the US Government "owns" the Internet) of the core critical resources listed above. The US Government through the Department of Defense contracted the development of the Internet and these resources in 1969 to Stanford Research Institute through its ARPA contracts. The DoD then conveyed the technical management of the Internet to the National Sciences Foundation (NSF) in 1991, who created InterNIC to management the resources. NSF then conveyed in 1998 the technical resources to the Department of Commerce, who selected ICANN to manage the resources.

      This is all provided for in the IANA Functions contract which is how the US still controls the core functions. This contract can be found at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) web page which has all of the associated contracts and supplemental updates.

      Domain Names: Management of Internet Names and Addresses
      http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/iana….

      I was in Vilnius for the 5th IGF meeting. It was mostly policy and discussions with some calls for ICANN to be brought under UN control by small countries' ministers. But it would appear that it has fallen on deaf ears here in the states.

      Hope this provides some clarity on the background and reality of the US Government's control over the core functions.

    12. Pingback: » Daily Dose – September 19, 2010

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