The U.S. has run the Internet, since the late 1960s when it first emerged a communications network among U.S. defense agencies and research labs, and considering the net's ubiquitous presence worldwide, the U.S. has done a remarkable job.
If ever there were a case for the maxim, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," the U.S. management of the Internet would seem to be it. But there are few issues that a United Nations commission, in solemn conclave assembled, can't make worse.
Last month, four authoritarian nations, Russia, China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, none of them noted as beacons of human rights and unfettered expression, proposed that individual states be allowed to regulate the Internet on their own, or, failing that, to let the U.N. do it. Brushing aside the rhetorical smokescreen of "information security," they are seeking the right to control their people's communication with the outside world even more than they do now.
The Washington Times, in a recent story on the issue, noted that China has an estimated 10,000 people monitoring the Internet users and websites and Chinese bloggers go to jail so often — usually for exposes of government corruption and ineptitude — that the arrests are hardly news any more.
In a speech to a national security conference reported on by the Times, Army Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, said he was opposed to letting the U.N. regulate the Internet. Alexander, in our opinion, might have been diplomatic to a fault in not saying outright this was basically a stupid idea.
Cold War veterans must have felt a twinge of nostalgia reading the language of the Russia, China, et al resolution. It called for "the earliest possible consensus on international norms and rules guiding the behavior of states in the information space."
In the bad old days, the Soviet bloc was regularly coming up with "international norms and rules" that it had no intention of following but would have shackled those nations that believed in the rule of law.
The resolution recalled the infamous 2005 UNESCO conference on a "new world information order" that proposed a supranational agency to control "global media" and censor the world's press, especially its reporting on the Third World.
Alexander did suggest that if the U.N. felt it had to act on the Internet it take on the problems of cybercriminals and cyber attacks. This held little appeal for the sponsors of the resolution, perhaps because Russia and China are two of the biggest offenders.