Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 2003 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Peter A. Brown

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U.N. oversight of Internet: Dumb idea | It would be hard to think of a dumber idea than putting the United Nations in charge of the Internet, other than letting the French direct a global defense against martian invaders.

Giving the U.N. bureaucrats control over the future of international communication and commerce would be akin to putting Karl Marx in charge of stock trading at Merrill Lynch.

Marx, the father of communism who thought markets should be mothballed, could not fathom the idea that the profit motive might one day produce wealth that benefits most of society.

So, too, it would be impossible for many members of the United Nations, and certainly its bureaucracy, which sees government and central planning as the font of all knowledge, to do anything but screw up the Internet.

Yet that is what some - especially in lesser-developed countries that suspect anything having too much Western influence - want to occur.

The issue is reportedly on the agenda at an international information summit next month in Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times - the U.K.-based business-oriented newspaper - initial opposition from the United States and the European community has, for now, forestalled a drive to give a U.N. agency oversight of the Internet.

Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Saudi Arabia are among those unhappy with the current system, under which the Internet and access to it are overseen with a very light hand by a California-based entity.

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The semiprivate, nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers hands out Internet addresses and generally is the technological coordinator of cyberspace. ICANN, run by a board on which Americans are a minority, does not regulate content.

The Internet was created by the U.S. military in the 1960s in order to have a bombproof communication system in case of nuclear attack.

It evolved into a network used primarily by universities, and in the 1990s, the Internet began to sprout as an all-purpose communication system that has revolutionized virtually every aspect of modern life.

The U.S. Congress formed ICANN in 1998, when the Internet began going commercial and there was a need to coordinate its development. The legislation sets criteria, not all of which have been met, that ICANN must accomplish before it can become independent.

Because ICANN's directors are mostly from industrialized nations with previous Internet backgrounds, not surprisingly those outside that club want to use their political skills to win the ability to shape something they could not in their wildest dreams have created.

Now, there may even be some here at home who believe in multilaterialism to the extent that they think the United States and its friends should share their pre-eminent role.

Those who think so are nuts.

The Internet has prospered because all that ICANN does is collect a relatively small amount of money for addresses and to keep the traffic moving.

It has nursed the Internet on the notion of capitalism, limited government interference and embraced commercialization.

Those are principles that can get you shot by governments in many parts of the world.

It would be quite easy to imagine how giving a world government control over the Internet would restrict the information flow to avoid offending this or that political or religious sensibility.

Those who argue that the Internet is a public resource are correct. It was even developed, to a degree, by government - actually a Pentagon agency - but it has remained generally free of government's heavy hand and has thrived because of it.

And what those of us in the United States consider the heavy hand of government is actually just a love tap compared to the way that governments run things in most of the world, and especially in those countries that favor U.N. control because it would increase their say.

Yet complaints about rising amounts of spam and viruses should not become an excuse for a power grab that would give a bunch of bureaucrats the power to regulate cyberspace.

This issue is one of the few things these days on which there is common cause between the United States and most Western European countries.

Even the quasi-socialists on the continent know not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Although any effort to make major strides toward U.N. Internet control apparently have been sidetracked for the Dec. 10-12 summit, the Financial Times reports those pesky elves in U.N. land are hoping to keep the issue alive.

Their new goal is reportedly to try to demand that the United Nations and its minions take over the Internet when a second world information summit is scheduled in 2005.

Heaven forbid.

Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.


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