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A Periodic (P)review Of Leaping Forward

By: Johan

Tuesday, November 15

The Internet As You Know It Could Be Gone Soon!

We all know ICANN, the people who administer the distribution of domain names and IP addresses. What a lot of people don't know is that ICANN is a private-public partnership, led by people from around the world including many African countries. ICANN is not a US government organisation.

ICANN has been doing its job very well considering the magnitude of its task and the interests involved. The fact that the internet is such a relatively new thing and the pace it's grown with don't make it any easier. They owe a lot to internet pioneer Jon Postel's vision and hard work.

Here's the problem that threatens the relatively free internet as we know it:

The charter for the ICANN expires next year and those people who tried to manage the oil for food program want to take over...

CFIF.org, the US focussed Center for Individual Freedom puts it like this:

Let's play pretend for a moment...

You're an international organization. You've spent the last few years perfecting corruption by managing the largest financial scandal in the history of the world. Your peacekeepers are routinely committing repulsive acts of sexual abuse and pedophilia. You have raised irrelevance to an art form except in those instances where your bureaucrats have raised incompetence and failure to an art form. Many of your most influential members are anti-democratic, totalitarian states more interested in controlling their populations than ensuring the free flow of ideas.

You are the United Nations.

And now you want to control the Internet.

UN member countries including China, Iran and Saudi Arabia - countries known for their tough censorship and oppression of freedom of speech - want more control over the fundamental building blocks that make up the world wide web.

They are trying to gain control by emphasizing the fact ICANN is a US run organisation, a statement which doesn't do just to ICANN's international representation. The UN is advertising noble visions like increasing internet access and receiving global input but people who have been monitoring the UN's efforts towards this government-dominated online environment have found questionable hidden agenda's.

Kristina Rasmussen from the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) reports on the less noble motives and outcomes from the proposed deal:

  • Censorship. Despite having made a declaration of support for freedom of speech, many WGIG members come from nations that severely curtail this right; China, for example, has one of the most restrictive and sophisticated Internet control mechanisms in the world. Just as other UN bodies have been "co-opted" by non- democratic governments, "an 'International Internet Commission' chaired by China might not be far off," Rasmussen observed.
  • Taxes. Since the Internet's infancy the UN has crafted detailed proposals to tax online traffic. Rasmussen calculates that one 1999 plan for a "bit tax," adjusted for today's number of Internet users, would raise 12 trillion dollars this year - roughly equal to America's Gross Domestic Product. Even less ambitious money-raising models such as the independent, Switzerland-based "Digital Solidarity Fund" could feasibly be transformed into future collectors of compulsory Internet taxes and fees.
  • Bureaucratic Corruption. Given recent oil-for-food scandals, UN-style Internet agencies would present the inherent risk of "giving ruling members of regimes in the developing world shiny new computers rather than furnishing the poor with Internet access," Rasmussen said.
Just imagine having to pay tax for every bit you pull down from the net! Outrageous! We now pay a mere few bucks to support ICANN's efforts, no way should we agree to funding the UN a whopping 12 trillion dollars a year!

An interview with the director of the ITU, the UN agency originally created to facilitate telegraph transmission and later also radio and telephone communications - those now set to expand their mandate to cover the internet as well, can be read here.

There's another negative we've seen happening a lot at World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) meetings. Countries with no intellectual property virtually paralyze WIPO discussions in an attempt to gain leverage for agricultural complaints. Therefore under "UNternet" control, we should expect the process and the organization to be highjacked by further power struggles between developing countries.

"If any necessary Internet policy changes fall within the UN agency's mandate, those needed changes will be immediately held hostage in an effort to gain leverage on some totally unrelated cause-of-the-day."
This comment was made by Giovanetti from the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), a non-governmental organization (NGO) accredited with the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), the group created by the UN to take over ICANN's job. The IPI is an independant public policy think tank advocating lower taxes, fewer regulations, and a smaller, less-intrusive government.

As David Usher points out on MensNewsDaily.com, the way the internet is built up means not one single country can destroy the entire web. But countries like Singapore and China, who do everything they can to prevent their citizen from possibly seeing the greener grass on the other side, could close their own borders for once and for all if they had control over DNS allocation. After explaining the technical issues involved, Usher goes on to give a prime example of what happens when you take away something people know they can get elsewhere:

History provides some insight: Compuserve was an early ISP who attempted to lock its users into being dependent on them for everything. Fees were changed every step of the way. It was inconvenient to access anything outside the Compuserve network. It did not take long for users to discover they were being held hostage. They changed ISP’s in record numbers, and Compuserve faded into history.
Usher also claims that many parts of the web's underlying technology are intellectual property of the United States - something other countries can not take away without a figt.

Judging by the UN's track record and the true reaons why they were founded in the first place, giving them control over the internet seems like a very bad idea to me. However, letting the US keep their sole veto rights seems unfair indeed as well. The Bush administration recently prevented the planned addition of the .xxx TLD, an effort putting the ICANN in an awkward position considering its supposedly independant status. News.com reports:

A government report from a few years ago hints that the Bush administration could choose unilaterally to block .xxx from being added to the Internet's master database of domains. The report notes that the Commerce Department has "reserved final policy control over the authoritative root server."
So they're not all that independent when the going gets tough.

Rasmussen from the NTU concludes:

"Manipulating Internet content through an internationalized, tax-funded structure may be an attractive outcome for politicians seeking to suppress dissent and prop up financially ailing bureaucracies, but not for friends of economic and information freedom. The concept of international Internet governance should be rejected, and the proposals of the WGIG report moved to where they belong - the 'trash' bin of every policymaker's computer."
This week, in Tunisia at a UN sponsored world summit on the Information Society the UN will try to further improve its stance, knowing the ICANN charter is coming to an end next year. Tunisia seems an ironic host for such a summit considering though freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Tunisian constitution, press and broadcasting are closely controlled by the government there.

But the UN wouldn't be the corrupt organization as we know it if the Tunis summit would't have been biased already, as explained in this excellent read where someone speaking at one of the preliminary sessions reveals:
The chairman of my session said I was not allowed to talk about intellectual property. She said that’s a problem for the World Intellectual Property Organization. It was ridiculous. It revealed a way in which the deal was struck to establish the World Summit on the Information Society, which was as long as you don’t touch intellectual property you can talk about whatever you want. The insane thing about that position is that there’s no way to strike the right balance unless you consider intellectual property.
Discussing all issues involved is obviously impossible without address the intellectual property questions. Europe, led by France, has recently switched stance and now supports the UN instead of keeping things as they are with US based ICANN. This means the whole world is now pretty much "against the US" - or at least on political paper that is - so the ICANN could so with some support.

But if UN control nor ICANN control with US government influence is desirable, then what is? The Bush administration wants to privatise ICANN when its current term is up. ICANN becoming a global, non government influenced and not for profit entity would probably be most fair but how is that supposed to be organised?

CFIF reports:

The Internet has become the most powerful information tool in history precisely because its content in uncontrolled. And the result has been a tidal wave of information and ideas open and free to anyone in the world with a computer and phone line.

That's where countries like China and Iran have a problem. They don't want their citizens reading capitalist, freedom-toting propaganda like, well, cfif.org. And heaven knows what kind of breakdown they would have if the totalitarians ever discovered The Onion.

They can't exert any control over content as long as ICANN is in charge, so they would rather someone else do the job.
Who should that be and how?

9 out of the ICANN's 13 root servers are in the US now, perhaps they could move more abroad in order to ditch the US reputation for starters...

Make sure you visit http://www.icannwatch.org/, it has some saucy details on ICANN's 'independance'.


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