U.N. Gives Governments More Power Over Internet

December 17, 2012

A majority of United Nations member countries voted to allow governments to close off access to the Internet in their countries last weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported in a column by L. Gordon Crovitz.

Members met at a conference of the International Telecommunications Union in Dubai. The results, according to Crovitz, were disappointing:

The authoritarian majority included Russia, China, Arab countries, Iran and much of Africa. Under the rules of the ITU, the treaty takes effect in 2015 for these countries. Countries that opposed it are not bound by it, but Internet users in free countries will also suffer as global networks split into two camps—one open, one closed.

The U.S. delegation never understood this conference was fundamentally a battle in what might be called the Digital Cold War. Russia and China had long been lobbying for votes, but U.S. opposition got serious only at the conference itself. Even then, [ITU head] Mr. [Hamadoun] Touré claimed he thought the U.S. would support the ITU treaty: "I couldn't imagine that at the end they wouldn't sign."

The treaty document extends control over Internet companies, not just telecoms. It declares: "All governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance." ...

Internet users in still-open countries will be harmed, too. Today's smoothly functioning system includes 40,000 privately managed networks among 425,000 global routes that ignore national boundaries. Expect these networks to be split by a digital Iron Curtain. The Internet will become less resilient. Websites will no longer be global.