U.N. Must Earn Net Role

Opinion: The United Nations must prove its worthiness for a seat at the table of Internet governance.

The United Nations working group on Internet governance meets in Geneva next week to continue its work to define how it thinks the Internet should be run and by whom. The group, set up by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last year, is due to deliver a report in July that will outline the steps the U.N. should take to play a central role in the development and management of the Internet.

The U.N. has been trying to carve itself a role in Internet governance for years through its International Telecommunication Union agency. The ITUs desire to play a larger role in running the Internet has been met with opposition from the United States and members of the global Internet community, particularly the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.

We have said in the past—and we continue to assert—that the Internet should allow any protocol and any form of content to pass among mutually consenting parties. Were concerned that Third World U.N. members that do not tolerate free expression will use any involvement in running the Internet as an opportunity to impose limitations consistent with their outlook. Despite problems, we appreciate the Internets present level of freedom and believe firmly it should not become less free. ICANN and its de facto governing partners, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium, may have bouts of arrogance and indifference, but they have no interest in censoring, constraining or controlling Internet content.

While ICANN is certainly open to legitimate criticism—and we have taken ICANN to task in this space—we question whether the Internet needs a new bureaucratic bully to create policies. Enough time is already wasted discussing governance of the Internet rather than its goals.

The Working Group on Internet Governance is accepting public comment before it submits a final report to Annan in July. That report will be reviewed by world leaders during the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society in November. We strongly encourage participation by IT vendors and users in the public-comment process.

Were not against the U.N. having a seat at the table of Internet governance. But we would be far more convinced of the U.N.s worthiness for such a role if it were to first perform some concrete, constructive tasks on behalf of Internet users. Although the working group has mentioned both security and spam as areas that need to be addressed, it has done little so far to address them. With spam and hackers coming from all over the world, the U.N. should seize the initiative to foster international cooperation to combat these two problems.

Should the U.N. prove that it can streamline worldwide lawmaking and law enforcement to the benefit of Internet users, we would certainly give a vote of confidence to encourage its greater involvement in the Internets future.

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