Saturday, October 01, 2005

The internet is a product of American taxpayer dollars and open-system participation by a billion people across the planet who have built the most amazing scale-free network of communication and commerce in history. Because the system originated in the United States at a time when Americans constituted some 99.9 % of internet users, an American NGO called ICANN ( Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) became the self-regulating authority for internet domain registration, an unglamorous but absolutely necessary chore which it has carried out quietly with few problems since its inception. Naturally, the UN bureaucracy which contributed absolutely nothing to this process feels morally entitled and technically competent to now assume ICANN's duties.

It is neither. Nor are the motives behind such a move any better than the likely results of giving control of the internet to a corrupt bureaucracy riddled with professional intelligence agents who would like to use an ICANN-like IGO authority to help their member states tax commerce, censor ideas and identify, persecute and murder online dissenters. Why beat around the bush ? The only uses Robert Mugabe and Burma's military junta have for the UN controlling the internet are undilutedly evil ones.

Aside from that, countries who cannot manage a telephone company or provide their people with even primary schooling have no business making decisions on the future of the internet. These are states that without copious and ongoing Western aid and trade would have no more sophisticated method of long-distance communication than two tin cans and a length of string.

Bruce Kesler at The Democracy Project, has a hard-hitting post that covers the story, the players and the stakes involved. I am posting it here not as an excerpt but rather in its entirety:

"September 29, 2005

The Summit to Suppress Internet Freedom

The World Summit on the Information Society is holding meetings, the ostensible goal to expand Internet access in developing countries but the real agenda to shift control of the Internet to the U.N. from U.S. dominated organizations. As in all things, the countries united to suppress freedom who are the majority at the United Nations, facilitated by cowardly European eunuchs envious of the U.S., pay lip service to the downtrodden as they devise ways to keep them that way.

South African journalist at the Summit, Brenda Zulu, summed up the stakes: “With censorship we can never get anywhere and the marginalized voices will never be heard.”

Reporters Without Borders, among the many cases it tracks, tells us about cyberdissident Nguyen Vu Binh. Nguyen began his fourth year in Vietnamese prison on September 25. He formerly worked for “The Communist Reviews”, an official communist party publication. Among his sins was involvement in an organization fighting corruption, rampant in the workers’ paradise to enrich its ruling elite, and applying to set up a liberal democratic party, that might actually benefit the downtrodden rather than those wearing the boots.

Reporters Without Borders tells us “the 11 commandments of the Internet in China,” announced on September 25 by the state controlled media. As RSF says, “The Chinese authorities never seem to let up on their desire to regulate the Web and their determination to control information available on it ever more tightly.” The RSF report concludes that these moves to filter the Internet are “a sign that the Internet frightens those in power.”

Constructively fighting back, Reporters Without Frontiers just published its downloadable “Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents.” Global Voices Online calls it “the first truly useful book [for] people who have views and information that they want to share with the world…if you’re in a country where the government might not like what you’re saying, how to avoid getting in trouble when you by-pass the information gatekeepers.”

The Washington Times’ report on the Handbook reminds us that, “China has acquired the gear and know-how to engage in censorship so effectively from American companies, as for example Cisco Systems Inc. and Yahoo Inc.” And, don’t forget Microsoft and Google’s willing collusion in suppressing freedom of the Internet. Human Rights Watch, blisters the “trend of major American-based companies assisting the Chinese government in its efforts to censor free expression on the Internet,” reminding us “Google has agreed to exclude from a list of links publications that the Chinese government finds objectionable. Microsoft has capitulated to China by sending an error message to Internet users in China who use Microsoft’s search engine to search for the Chinese words for democracy, freedom, human rights, or demonstration, among others.”

As Human Rights Watch correctly observes, “When companies like Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google decide to put profits from their Chinese operations over the free exchange of information, they are helping to kill that dream.”

Carlos Ramos-Mrosovsky and Joseph Barillari have a succinct yet comprehensive report on the Summit to suppress Internet freedom, full of links, “World Wide (Web) Takeover,” at National Review Online.

Ramos-Mrosovsky and Barillari so well describe this Summit’s attempted putsch to further the take over of this bastion of free thought that its entirety and links is a MUST read. Some brief excerpts:

“Only dictators, and, perhaps, the doctrinaire internationalists who so often abet them, stand to gain from placing the Internet under "international" control. If, for example, the U.N. were to control domain names, its component tyrannies would find it much easier to censor and repress. After all, "internet public policy" is subject to interpretation, and it is hard to imagine international bureaucrats resisting — as ICANN and the U.S. largely have — the temptation to politicize their task.”

Another good point made is that, “Surrendering the Internet might also increase America's vulnerability to online security threats. It could be difficult to guard against cyber-terrorism or to pursue terrorists online, if the Internet were under the supervision of a body unsure of what terrorism is, but quite sure that it does not like the United States.”

Ramos-Mrosovsky and Barillari conclude: “Although the Bush administration will not relinquish U.S. oversight of the Internet, a future president may be more willing to make this seemingly small concession to curry favor with internationalist elites or supposed strategic partners. As with the Kyoto Protocol or the International Criminal Court, Washington's refusal to bend to the "international community" over the Internet might be magnified into another gleefully touted example of American arrogance. America's rivals, less constrained by electoral cycles, tend to view foreign policy over the longer term. They are willing to wait. If we are to preserve the Internet as we know it, the Bush administration must take steps to foreclose the possibility of it ever becoming the plaything of dictators.”

The Associated Press reports today that the “U.S. insists on keeping control of Web,” quoting U.S. Ambassador David Gross, the State Department’s coordinator for international communications and information policy, “ The genius of the Internet is that it has been flexible [and] private sector led.”

The AP failed to note, as the International Herald-Tribune does, that Ambassador Gross comment was “an angry reply” to a last-minute, typical European Union weasel proposal, what Gross called “a very shocking and profound change of the EU’s position,” to “create an intergovernmental forum that would set principles for governing the Internet.” Gross said the “EU’s proposal seems to represent an historic shift in the regulatory approach to the Internet from one that is based on private sector leadership to a government, top-down control of the Internet.”

Lover of free enterprise that I am, we must recognize that many U.S. companies have more love of enterprise than freedom.

I’d suggest that legislation be introduced in Congress and backed by the Bush administration that penalizes any U.S. company, like Cisco, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, from facilitating censorship of the Internet. Like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), penalizing U.S. companies for participating in the common international contracting corruption far beyond anything even Louisiana politicians can fantasize about, this will not be an easy bill to craft, and it may take years of interpretations and court cases to flesh it out. But the effort is needed and worthwhile. Like FCPA, such a bill will help maintain U.S. corporate standards of conduct in commerce and human rights and through the very weight of the U.S. economy in the world may further them elsewhere. At the very least, we will not be letting Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! or Cisco be defining to the rest of the world that America does not really stand for freedom."

Amen Bruce.


1) In the comments, Shrieking Geek notes:

" Minor point, ICANN controls, as its name states, assigned names and numbers. ICANN controls IP address assignment and protocol recognized port assignment. ICANN does not control domain registration; that is now pretty well distributed (used to be only Network Solutions)."

Doh !! Much thanks for the correction. :o)

2) Jeff Medcalf at Caerdroia posts on the futility of the UN internet grab. An excerpt:

"So should some tyrannical agency start compelling the existing backbone providers (that is, the companies that provide connectivity and bandwidth to the ISPs that provide you with connectivity and bandwidth), an alternate Internet would spring up within a very short time period, using different name servers, a different body controlling addressing and ports, and not connecting to the existing Internet, except maybe through a controlled and isolated gateway system. (In an ideal world, the first step would be to fix the underlying problems with IP, such as lack of encryption/non-deniability at the lowest protocol level and the too-small address space), but we don't live in an ideal world, and getting OS vendors to release patches for all of their extant OSs, including ones they no longer actually sell or support, just isn't going to happen.)"


Reason number 5065 why I don’t regret voting Bush over Kerry.
Minor point, ICANN controls, as its name states, assigned names and numbers. ICANN controls IP address assignment and protocol recognized port assignment. ICANN does not control domain registration; that is now pretty well distributed (used to be only Network Solutions).

My thanks for the correction ! :o)
The too small address space plus encryption, plus non-deniability all get handled (along with many other problems) by IPv6. We're going to be deploying IPv6 over the next 5-10 years and deployments are already starting. The big push is going to hit around 2009-2011 when the US Army starts requiring IPv6 from all its network vendors. It's been the lack of such a huge user that has held back IPv6 deployment until now.

It does seem to be an odd development for the UN to try to take over an organization like ICANN. It used to be that they would just get pre-existing organizations like the ITU to join them. I wonder what the ITU thinks about it all.
Thanks TM !

For those of you who like me, wasn't entirely sure what Mr. Lutas was referring to, try these:



Um, first note: Jeff Medcalf and Shrieking Geek are the same person. Gotta be careful about how I login to blogger. Or I could just take whatever cookie is extant and run with that. Much easier. :-)

Anyway, the only problem with IPv6 of which I am aware is that the encryption is optional. I would dearly love to see IPv6 domains only route signed, encrypted traffic. The reason for this is simple: non-deniability. If I have the signature of every mail host that passes on spam, I can utterly block any mail with those signatures. And that means that hosts would have a powerful incentive to cut off or help secure open or cracked machines, which would quickly reduce the spam content. Among other things.

Anonymizers could still be used for people who need them, and individual site hosts could choose to accept or deny anonymized content.
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