Key Internet stakeholders, including the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have released a statement condemning pervasive government surveillance and calling for an internationalization of the Internet’s underlying framework.
The Internet as we know it today is largely managed through a model that is multi-stakeholder, with various non-governmental groups keeping the trains on time. Through this system, no single government gets to hold sway over the Internet, which preserves its role as a catalyst for free speech, open inquiry, dialogue and porn.
It works pretty well, all things considered. There have been recent petitions to allow the United Nations larger influence into Internet function. The United States government was vehemently against it. Why? Here’s current UN Secretary discussing what he views are the limits of free speech:
Freedoms of expression should be and must be guaranteed and protected, when they are used for common justice, common purpose. When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way. My position is that freedom of expression, while it is a fundamental right and privilege, should not be abused by such people, by such a disgraceful and shameful act.
Would you like the United Nations determining what sort of speech fits the “common purpose”? Of course not. That’s why keeping elements of the Internet’s core structure in the United States, under our aegis, has been so beneficial; the free speech laws in this country are perhaps the most ironclad of any. Also, by keeping such institutions as ICANN here in the United States, we provide a fair buttress: If you want to mess with them, we’re standing right next to, and behind them.
However, post-NSA revelations, the United States has lost its standing as the Internet’s defender. Instead, it has been revealed that as a country we have systematically worked to undermine its encryption, and the inherent privacy that it grants users.
Instead of keeping the Internet safe, we have built an industry designed on its subversion. And now the Internet is ready to break up with us. From the joint statement:
[The parties] expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance. [...] They called for accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.
This is a damn shame. If we as a nation hadn’t decided that everyone’s Internet was our own plaything to abuse, the Internet could have kept its center of gravity here, with our First Amendment and burgeoning Internet industry. Now, other parties may, in the future, have as much sway as we do.
I don’t often get the chance to quote Senator Marco Rubio here at TechCrunch, but this is such a time. Following calls for greater UN control of the Internet, he explained the situation in the following way last year during the episode:
Last year, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan proposed an “international code of conduct” in an attempt to justify greater government control over the Internet and standardize international rules and behavior concerning cyberspace and information. These and other nations have been calling for more regulation over how the Internet operates and pushing to give the United Nations and ITU unprecedented control over Internet.
The Senator, his chamber, the lower chamber of Congress, and the Executive Branch were opposed. The irony is that while they were shouting that, their work funded the NSA’s cracking of Internet encryption for all. For shame.
Losing primacy over the Internet is a material loss for free speech if it does happen. The statement is just that — for now.
Top Image Credit: Robert Scoble