The UN is Still, Still…Still! Not Trying to Control Your Internet

The International Telecoms Union’s big meeting in Dubai last December produced some terrible journalism and commentary suggesting that the UN was somehow eyeing an internet takeover. That wasn’t true then. And it still is not true.

Yet, there still seems to be some misunderstandings about the issue. To wit, here is House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce in the Orange County Register yesterday:

The continuing freedom of the Internet is threatened by a relatively unknown organization: the International Telecommunication Union, a branch of the United Nations. For many decades the ITU served a largely positive role in facilitating such routine tasks as setting technical standards for global telecommunications systems. But it has never had any role regarding the Internet.

However, at the most recent ITU conference in December, a coalition of governments, including many of the most repressive, hijacked the agenda and opened the door for the ITU to begin regulating the Internet. One of their aims is to control the Internet’s content and any access to it by their citizens.

The U.S. representatives to the conference, along with our allies and most other developed countries, strongly resisted this grab for power and refused to sign the final conference document. But a majority of ITU members, led by China, Russia and developing countries, signed enthusiastically.

Soon the ITU will begin to exercise its new authority and slowly but steadily extend its reach. The camel’s nose is now under the tent.

First, we must understand that this struggle will extend far into the future. Those seeking to bring the Internet under their control will never stop. As Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, their goal is to establish “international control over the Internet.”

There are a couple things wrong with this analysis. First, while it is true the USA did not sign the final outcome document, it is wrong to suggest that this document seeks to establish international control over the Internet. In fact, the final outcome document does not mention the Internet at all–rather, provisions related to the Internet are only included in a non-binding annex. But even in that non-binding annex where the Internet is mentioned, the text is rather anodyne. There’s certainly nothing about changing the multi-stakeholder model or global control. On the other hand, the document does insist on human rights principals as the guiding force behind all international telecoms regulations. Read it for yourself.

Second, “the ITU” is not a body that can make countries to do anything. There is no enforcement mechanism at the ITU. It is up to member states to enforce their own rules and regulations. The idea that the ITU could force the USA or anyother country to change its Internet policies is laughable to anyone who knows anything about how the UN works.

So, let’s all take a deep breath. The UN is still not coming after your Internet.