Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Should the U.S. Transfer Control of the Internet to the U.N.?

While some (mostly right-wing) groups continue to worry about the transfer of "sovereignty " to the UN in treaties like that for the Law of the Sea Treaty, there is a far more important international struggle afoot: control of the internet.

As CNET reports, a recent meeting of the U.N.'s Working Group on Internet Governance turned into a gripe-session where various emerging powers like China and Brazil explained that they are getting fed up with U.S. control of Internet addresses. The U.S. government controls root addresses and a non-profit private entity ICANN controls actual addresses. China, Brazil, and other developing countries have called for ending U.S. dominance and transferring internet governance into a UN framework.

It would be easy to dismiss these calls as ridiculous. If the UN can't administer its own internal matters, how could it regulate the internet? But I can understand why it would annoy various countries that the master file for root addresses sits in some computer in the U.S. Commerce Department.

But international regulations are not the answer here. Rather, control of the internet is a classic coordination problem best handled by a central administrative body, such as the International Telecommunications Union. But there is really no need to fold internet regulation into the already byzantine UN bureaucracy.

Nationalist-type might ask: why bother? As long as the U.S. remains in control, what is the big deal? As the article points out, however, countries like China do have some recourse: They can create their own root addresses and create a fragmented internet. Both the U.S. and China have strong reasons to work together to avoid such a situation. But some sort of compromise is probably necessary in the long term.

17 Comments:

Anonymous Michael said...

". . . control of the internet is a classic coordination problem best handled by a central administrative body, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)."

I'm not sure if the ITU (or any existing group for that matter) has the expertise or even capacity to handle all of the issues connected with the use of the Internet such as spam, cybercrime, network security, consumer rights, and privacy rights.

In fact, I'm thinking that there are many different groups handling a particular problem posed by the Internet, and that these groups are not working together very well.

All of which means that the world community will probably create some kind of new forum (whether it is based in the UN or outside of the UN completely) to address these concerns in more detail.

Regardless of what political spectrum we come from, I don't think that we should dismiss outright the creation of a new organization to tackle new problems. In the case of so-called "Internet governance," I think that the existing mechanisms to handle all of the problems posed by the Internet is proving to be inadequate.

So why not create a new organization? I know that there are folks who will say, "What?! Another international organization?!" But that's like saying, "What?! You want to settle our dispute using an established dispute settlement mechanism?! But everyone does that! I want to be different!" (That was a little facetious, but you get my point.)

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