There is an effort within the United Nations — led by Russia, China and a coalition of developing nations with authoritarian regimes — to control the Internet, and 2012 may be a crucial year for opposition to such a shift, a key U.S. overseer warned Thursday.
Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican, told the Federal Communications Bar Association that “scores of countries, including China, Russia and India, are pushing hard for international regulation of Internet governance.”
In December 2012, the International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. agency, will host a meeting in Dubai to renegotiate a treaty signed in 1988. That treaty was responsible for what McDowell calls a “dramatic liberalization of international telecommunications,” which set about “the greatest deregulatory success story of all time.” The Dubai meeting could conclude with an agreement to consolidate authority over the Internet under the ITU.
“While we have been focused on other important matters here in the U.S., the effort to radically reverse the long-standing international consensus to keep governments from regulating core functions of the Internet’s ecosystem has been gaining momentum,” McDowell warned.
McDowell said that mechanisms for generating revenue for domestic treasuries could be devised by the ITU, as could regulations for “international mobile roaming rates and practices.” He suggested that changes could transfer “cybersecurity and data privacy to international control.”
Efforts to devise Internet regulations have been underway for several years at the U.N., and governments are not the only parties interested in consolidating Internet regulatory control under international authority. Numerous non-governmental organizations and international foundations are also involved in the effort to change Internet policy.
“The reach, scope and seriousness of this effort are nothing short of massive,” said McDowell.
In 2010 a series of United Nations fact-finding missions were sponsored by George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the Swedish government to discuss how improved Internet access could benefit human rights.
The findings came in 2011 when United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue declared “Internet is a human right,” the idea being that Internet access allows an individual freedom of expression and associated rights. More recently, La Rue said that governments should err against censoring the Internet, except when speech violates other human rights and encourages things like “racism.” He also said that governments should ensure that people have access to broadband Internet.
The United Nations Human Rights Council recently launched a campaign called “Let’s Fight Racism,” designed to encourage people to use social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to work towards the breakdown of racism and xenophobic attitudes in society. The Open Society Institute and American Civil Liberties Union were among the groups representing civil society with seats at the roundtables at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September as part of it’s “10th Anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme Action.”
The Durban conference 10 years ago was criticized for being anti-Semitic and a “forum for racism.” The anniversary for that conference was no better — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered anti-Western and anti-Israel remarks that prompted the U.S. envoy to walk out of the conference.