An international meeting started Monday in Dubai that could radically change how you use the Internet.
The goal of delegates there is to grab control of the World Wide Web away from the United States, and hand it to a UN body of bureaucrats, the International Telecommunications Union or ITU. It’ll be the biggest power grab in the UN’s history, as well as a perversion of its power.
You remember the United Nations. They’re the people who want a global income tax; who applaud whenever Iran’s Ahmedinejad appears on its stage, and who put Iran, Syria, and China on their Human Rights Committee.
Now they want to run the Internet. That’s not just bad news for Americans;
it’s a disaster for the 2 billion-plus users who depend on access to the Internet for messages of freedom and hope in a world where both are vanishing fast.
The future of freedom in the 21st century may be about to be deleted, at the click of a mouse.
Pushing the Dubai agenda are Russia and China. Their plan is to take away control over the Internet’s rules from the Los-Angeles-based non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names or ICANN, which has worked hard to keep the ‘Net as free and widely accessible as possible–something thugocrats around the world want to halt.
The ITU, by contrast, is run by delegates appointed by their national governments instead of by professional engineers and Internet companies. That means governments like China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and the Sudan get to decide whether ICANN should help them censor ‘Net content and eliminate domain names and IP addresses of dissidents–or groups in the United States trying to help them.
The Dubai delegates even want US-based websites like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo to pay local networks for the right to send material to foreign countries. That could make it too expensive to send data or documents to users in remote Third World countries–again, something the totalitarians gathering in Dubai won’t mind.
Since its beginning in this country, the Internet has been the embodiment of American ways of freedom of expression, equality of opportunity for access to knowledge, and free enterprise through the Net. What’s coming these next twelve days in Dubai would wreck that forever, and turn the Internet into just one more way governments get to snoop on their citizens, and dictate what they read or see, and when.
Leading the fight against the Dubai agenda are Google, and a host of other Internet companies and one of the Net’s original founders, Vint Cerf. Ominously silent, however, has been our own government, even as public clamor to keep the Internet free and clear grows.
The State Department’s delegate to the conference, Terry Kramer, assures us the United States won’t agree to handing over control of the Internet to the ITU. But he also says the US won’t try to control the agenda at Dubai. “We don’t want to come across like we’re preaching to others.”
Wrong. Americans need a delegate in Dubai who will tell the world about the Internet what Ronald Reagan used to say about the Panama Canal: We built it; we paid for it. We intend to keep it as a symbol of freedom, not a tool of tyranny.
Historian Arthur Herman is the author of the just released "Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II" (Random House May 2012) and the Pulitzer Prize finalist book "Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age" (Bantam, 2008).