Editorial

Editorial: Let's bring the UN's internet regulation talks into the open

If digital power grabs from your local government haven’t been enough for you, the UN is about to up the ante. On December 3rd, they’ll be meeting to update a treaty involving the International Telecommunication Union, the agency that oversees stuff like radio spectrums and satellite orbits. It just happens that certain countries (cough China cough) want to use the closed-doors meeting to expand the ITU’s powers to include internet regulation.

Hamadoun Toure, the ITU’s Secretary General, makes a reasonable case that they’re just the group to help expand internet access to the unconnected world, and to oversee its infrastructure. After all, they have done a pretty good job of keeping the areas that they already oversee orderly, but the internet is a different beast all together.

Radio spectrum and satellite orbits are one thing, but when it comes to a vibrant user-centric community like the internet, things start to get a little tricky. The good news is that they’ve got a ton of support from world leaders, including paragons of freedom like China and Russia. Actually, it turns out that they’ve been very active in the discussions since the beginning. But we’re sure they don’t have any ulterior motives – it’s all for the greater good, right?

Probably not, when you consider what they’re shooting for. Back in February, FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell wrote a disturbing article in the Wall Street Journal, saying that the negotiations would consider a few of the following proposals:

• Subject cyber security and data privacy to international control;

• Allow foreign phone companies to charge fees for "international" Internet traffic, perhaps even on a "per-click" basis for certain Web destinations, with the goal of generating revenue for state-owned phone companies and government treasuries;

• Impose unprecedented economic regulations such as mandates for rates, terms and conditions for currently unregulated traffic-swapping agreements known as "peering."

• Establish for the first time ITU dominion over important functions of multi-stakeholder Internet governance entities such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit entity that coordinates the .com and .org Web addresses of the world;

• Regulate international mobile roaming rates and practices.

And even if the worst case scenario doesn’t come true, you’ve still got irksome problems like introducing ‘international fees’ to internet traffic. Attorney Josh King told Fox News that “The open, multi-stakeholder approach that has led to the massive growth of the Internet over the last 15 years [would] be replaced with a system of top-down, international regulation.” And while some folks see that as ‘leveling the playing field’ for smaller countries, the chaotic, decentralized internet we all know and love has actually worked out pretty well.
 

ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure

The simple fact of the matter is that the internet has grown into something that effects so many people that it's just wrong to hold discussions that could change its fundamental nature without public input. Satellites and radio spectrums are one thing, but these discussions deserve to be held in a transparent, democratic nature. It's only fair to the millions of businesses and individuals who rely on the internet for their communications, lively hood and, yes, fun.

With the discussions rapidly approaching, activists are trying to sound the alarm and hoping that netizens come to their aid on the same scale as they did with SOPA and PIPA. OpenMedia has set up a petition for organizations and individuals to sign, calling on the UN to bring any internet related discussions into the open, and to keep their hands off anything that could ‘threaten the exercise of human rights online.’

We can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t agree with that, and last we checked, it was one of the hottest links on Reddit. Transparency and free speech is worth a couple of minutes of your time, right? Of course it is.

Images via Wikipedia and The Daily Caller

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9 Comments

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The UN is about as much use as a chocolate kettle. They'll bumble this like they've bumbled everything else.

The UN needs to stay out. They can't handle things they have not, they are not responsible to anyone as it is, why should they take over anything? Does anyone remember the crap with .org domains about 3-4 years ago when the new management took over that was under the control of the UN, and was down and off the air more then it was on.

imho, this is the only fair and democratic way to regulate the Internet in a world with the ever-increasing threats of cyber-terrorism. There is just no other mechanism to regulate such international matters outside of the UN. Otherwise, there will be one country with the advantage at the cost of the disadvantage of everyone else.

The good news is that they've got a ton of support from world leaders, including paragons of freedom like China and Russia.

Writes a guy from a country where citizens can be detained indefinitely without a charge.

+1 for sarcasm anyway!

zhiVago said,
Writes a guy from a country where citizens can be detained indefinitely without a charge.

+1 for sarcasm anyway!

Umad? USA IS FREEDOM! You know what the U is for? FREEDOM!!!

FREEDOM SA OF MURIKA! F YEAH!! MURIKA!!

zhiVago said,
imho, this is the only fair and democratic way to regulate the Internet in a world with the ever-increasing threats of cyber-terrorism. There is just no other mechanism to regulate such international matters outside of the UN. Otherwise, there will be one country with the advantage at the cost of the disadvantage of everyone else.

The problem is that it's not fair or democratic. I don't object to the UN handling it, but something of this magnitude needs to be open to public discourse. There's nothing democratic about a bunch of un-elected officials handing out power behind closed doors.

THolman said,

The problem is that it's not fair or democratic. I don't object to the UN handling it, but something of this magnitude needs to be open to public discourse. There's nothing democratic about a bunch of un-elected officials handing out power behind closed doors.

That's a pretty weak argument. The heads of states, who are elected, delegate their power to someone else.

Sending someone to the UN to represent a given country is no different than picking a minister. Are you suggesting that we should start voting in the ministers?

zhiVago said,

That's a pretty weak argument. The heads of states, who are elected, delegate their power to someone else.

Sending someone to the UN to represent a given country is no different than picking a minister. Are you suggesting that we should start voting in the ministers?

I'm suggesting that they should be open about what they're doing

It's too late to do anything, people have gotten used to the freedom of the internet and are not going to let that go without a fight. Give up UN, ask the people what they want because I bet it isn't what you think they want.