Con #7: The Formerly “Free” Internet

December 17, 2012

We’ve allowed the world’s most repressive dictators to take over control of the United Nations.  Now, they’re using that power to take over control of the Internet.

The Internet has become an important weapon in advancing freedom, because it enables instant communication around the world.  People who are repressed can use the Internet to organize, communicate and alert others about their situation.  But that’s about to change.

During a meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is part of the U.N., member countries voted 89 to 55 to give governments new powers to restrict access to the Internet in their countries.  Those in favor included Russia, China, Iran, and much of Africa and the Middle East.  The United States voted against the treaty, but did not take an especially strong stand, while Russia has been working on support for government oversight of the Internet for years.

Authoritarian governments will invoke U.N. authority to take control over access to the Internet, making it harder for their citizens to get around national firewalls,” according to Wall Street Journal columnist L. Gordon Crovitz.  “They now have the U.N.'s blessing to censor, monitor traffic, and prosecute troublemakers.”

Even without the ITU vote, many countries have taken steps to control Internet content.  The number of governments that censor Internet content has grown from four in 2002 to 40 today, according to Vinton Cerf, one of the inventors of the Internet (sorry, Al Gore).

Cerf wrote in The New York Times, “The Net prospered precisely because governments — for the most part — allowed the Internet to grow organically, with civil society, academia, private sector and voluntary standards bodies collaborating on development, operation and governance.  In contrast, the I.T.U. creates significant barriers to civil society participation.”

Given the potential impact, it’s surprising that this issue has not received greater media attention.

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