The UN STILL Not Trying to Control Your Internet (But The Wall Street Journal Wants You To Believe Otherwise)

The UN is still not trying to control or censor the Internet, despite when you read hyperventilating articles that start like this:

In a referendum among the world’s two billion Internet users, how many would vote to transfer control of the Internet to the United Nations? Perhaps 100,000, an estimate based on the number of top officials ruling the most authoritarian countries, whose power is threatened by the open Web.

Under the one country, one vote rule of the U.N., these 100,000 people trump the rest of the two billion. It only takes a majority of the 193 countries in the U.N. to hijack the Internet.

The International Telecommunications Union is hosting a conference in Dubai, where many countries are eager to extend the agency’s role beyond telecommunications to regulate the Internet. The two-week conference is half over, with meddlesome proposals from China, Russia and other authoritarian regimes dominating the discussion.

That’s from a Wall Street Journal column by L Gordon Crovitz. There are two big misunderstandings of the UN system contained in these three paragraphs. The first is that treaty negotiations like what is underway in Dubai will be subjected to majority rules. That’s just wrong. Conventions like the World Conference on International Telecommunications depend on consensus to proceed; not voting.  There is a simple reason for this: any new new International Telecommunications Regulations–which is what is being discussed in Dubai– requires self-enforcement. No extra-national body has the power or ability to impose these ITRs on member states. Member states have to regulate themselves.  That is why the final outcome of these negotiations will not include radical proposals. The USA would never agree to submissions by Russia or China to censor the Internet, so those proposals get dropped as countries reach consensus.

Treaty negotiations, no matter what the topic, tend to devolve into a race to the lowest common denominator. Crovitz fundamentally misunderstands this dynamic when he asserts that it only takes a majority of UN member states to impose their will on the rest.

This brings us to the second problem. Crovitz says that “the two-week conference is half over, with meddlesome proposals from China, Russia and other authoritarian regimes dominating the discussion.” In fact, these proposals are not dominating the actual discussions over the ITRs in Dubai. They were summarily rejected by key member states before Dubai, thus them off the table for the reasons of consensus listed above.

That said, these proposals are certainly dominating the media discussion about the 2012 World Telecoms Conference–but that’s because uninformed commentary like this and this in the Wall Street Journal are hyping a controversy that actually doesn’t exist.