UN Seeks Control of the Internet

Matt O'Conner
GENEVA, Switzerland – In a scenario that seems to have been ripped from a conspiracy theorists list of worst fears, a special United Nations-sponsored panel is pushing for U.N. control of cyberspace.

The panel, which was set up in late 2003, hopes to draw up a set of international rules governing the Internet. The system would cover everything from distribution of domain names to spam-fighting measures.

The idea was originally put forth by French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

“The information society offers new opportunities, but like all new technological revolutions, it also brings uncertainty,” Raffarin said. “It calls on us to establish international rules, which citizens can rely on.”

Raffarin’s motion was seconded by a number of countries, including China, Syria, Egypt, Vietnam and South Korea. U.S. critics worry that allowing such repressive governments to exert so much control over the Internet may lead to conflicts with constitutionally protected freedom of expression.

Currently, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a California-based non-profit organization, is the most widely recognized Internet governing body. ICANN’s oversight is restricted to technical issues, such as assigning website addresses, but developing countries say the group is subject to U.S. political influence. They want an international body, such as the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union, to become the global authority on all Internet issues.

Debate on the subject will continue throughout the year. A final decision on control of the Internet is expected to be rendered at the U.N.-sponsored World Summit on Information Society being held in Tunis, Tunisia in November.