Here it comes again — another United Nations-sponsored grab to control the Internet. Next month, Dec. 3-14, the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is holding a conference in Dubai, at which UN member states will meet to update the ITU treaty arrangements for international communications. The window will be open for everything from proposals for UN-regulated and administered fees to, as The Hill reports, language from China and Iran, which, in an effort to share with the world at large their own domestic practices, “could lead to online censorship and government monitoring of Web traffic.”
For those of you who don’t spend hours poring over UN web sites, some quick background on the UN’s ITU. Based in Geneva, its current secretary-general is Hamadoun Toure of Mali, whose credentials include a PhD from the University of Electronics, Telecommunications and Informatics of Moscow; honorary degrees from, among other places, the State University of Belarus and the National University of Moldova; plus membership in the Golden Order of the Honour of the International Telecommunication Academy of Moscow. The ITU’s deputy secretary-general, Zhao Houlin, is from China.
I’d include here a list of participants expected at the Dubai conference, except, in one those ominous foreshadowings to which the UN’s more troublesome gatherings are prone, the conference web site features its roster of “Announced Participants” as a restricted link, accessible only to those the ITU deems worthy. Apparently that does not include the great unwashed Internet-using public.
But hey, with the UN on the job, what could possibly go wrong?
Plenty, of course. The UN, in one way or another, has been eyeing the internet for years as a potential font of cash and lever of control. And the UN these days is the kind of place where Iran now chairs the Non-Aligned Movement, which consists of 119 member states plus the Palestinians — and accounts for well over half the membership of the UN General Assembly. All the usual old troubles apply: The UN remains an unaccountable, murky bureaucracy, lending itself to the manipulations of its worst members.
It is devoutly to be hoped that the Internet will escape the clutches of this conference without mortal damage (see: “U.N. Agency Reassures: We Just Want to Break the Internet, Not Take it Over“). If it does not, then is there any comfort to be found?