by Alex Fitzpatrick
The United Nations will meet in Dubai this December to make a decision that could carry significant consequences for the future of all web users: Should the UN be granted more control over the Internet?
With the high-profile meeting looming at the end of this year’s calendar, key members of the U.S. government and private sector firms will meet with lawmakers Thursday to argue that the U.S. should work to defeat the proposal, which they consider a dangerous breach of existing norms.
Currently, the Internet is regulated in what’s called a “multi-stakeholder” model, with various private and public organizations each playing specific roles in keeping the its wheels spinning. Change that setup, argues the panel, and you put at risk the entire structure of the Internet.
“A top-down, centralized, international regulatory overlay is antithetical to the architecture of the Net, which is a global network of networks without borders,” wrote FCC Commissioner and panel member Robert McDowell in the Wall Street Journal. “No government, let alone an intergovernmental body, can make engineering and economic decisions in lightning-fast Internet time.”
Countries in favor of the plan have argued that the organizations currently charged with oversight of the Internet, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, are too closely tied to the United States. Moving Internet regulatory authority to the UN, they argue, would democratize control over it.
However, some Internet privacy experts are concerned that giving censorship-heavy nations such as China more say in Internet regulation would have disastrous consequences for online free speech.
“Maybe it bothers you that the U.S. controls these major keys to the Internet, but I think it’s a good thing,” wrote Larry Seltzer for Byte. “Without control of these critical facilities, no international group of dictators can really exert much control outside of their own boundaries.”
Included in the panel will be Ambassador Philip Verveer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy; FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell; Ambassador David A. Gross, Former U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy; Sally Shipman Wentworth, Senior Manager of Public Policy at the Internet Society and Vinton Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google.
The House subcommittee panel will be broadcast via the web at 10:15 a.m. ET on Thursday, May 31.
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