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Jewish World Review
Nov. 21, 2005
/ 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5766
Internet control is dictators' dream
The people who gave you the corruption of the oil-for-food program want to run the Internet.
The organization that routinely puts such stellar international citizens as China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Sudan on its Human Rights Commission wants to manage the information superhighway. The United Nations wants to operate the World Wide Web.
No, this is not a joke.
Last week, the U.N.-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society convened in Tunis to advance this goal. The ostensible purpose of the WSIS is to make information and communication technologies accessible to all citizens of planet Earth.
That noble effort, however, has morphed into a subsidiary struggle to wrest oversight of the Web from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, the nonprofit group that renders the critical decisions that make the virtual world turn.
The grievance of some nations is that although ICANN has an international advisory body, the U.S. government retains veto power. A historical note about why that is so:
Four decades ago, the Pentagon called for the creation of a decentralized communications network that would allow it to maintain command and control in case of Soviet attack.
To withstand nuclear war, the network needed to contain multiple nodes and connections so that if some locations and databases were destroyed, surviving locations would retain the ability to communicate and still possess the knowledge of the entire network.
The decentralization of knowledge and research across the Defense Department's ARPANET became the framework for the Internet. That is to say, the Internet is an American creation.
The U.S. government, however, does not today "control" the Internet. The unmistakable trajectory of Internet oversight under U.S. leadership has been toward privatization.
Private industry makes every essential decision affecting the World Wide Web today, from providing service to individual users to running the servers and making the connections that form the backbone of the Internet.
And then there is ICANN, the Internet equivalent of a central processing unit, which approves suffixes for Web addresses, maps uniform resource locators, or URLs, across Internet addresses and maintains a global directory of Web site owners.
Among the 21 members of ICANN's board of directors are citizens of Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ghana, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States hardly a sign of U.S. domination.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has committed to complete the process of fully privatizing ICANN. So what's the problem? Resentment of the United States and fear of the free flow of information.
Some members of the WSIS Working Group on Internet Governance that want to halt progress toward Internet privatization and place the Web under the control of U.N. bureaucrats: China, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia.
Knowledge is power. Totalitarian systems are based on the concentration of power. The Internet disseminates knowledge and decentralizes power. If ever there was a weapon that threatened the existence of authoritarian regimes, it is the Internet.
The World Summit on the Information Society is a digital Trojan horse. Under the guise of making the Internet more accessible to more people, the leaders of some of the world's most repressive regimes want to limit access and control information.
The current system of Internet oversight is far from perfect. More can and should be done to enhance international cooperation and create measures of public accountability for ICANN. Politicizing the Internet's oversight and creating bureaucratic governance where none currently exists is, however, a monumental step in the wrong direction.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Jonathan Gurwitz, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, is a co-founder and twice served as Director General of the Future Leaders of the Alliance program at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. In 1986 he was placed on the Foreign Service Register of the U.S. State Department.Comment by clicking here.
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