UN Report: The Internet Is Dangerous Because It’s Just So Darn Open!

A recent UN report from the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force reads like a primer on Internet control and censorship. Entitled “Use Of The Internet For Terrorist Purposes,” the document, which discusses the dangers of “open Wi-Fi” and suggests ISPs maintain retention standards, focuses on the possibility of “terrorists” using the “Internet” to terrorize, a problem akin to trying to solve the problem of “criminals” walking in “parks.”

You can download the report here but there are a few fun zingers in there that really show that this UN task force has its finger on the pulse of the Internet. TechDirt dug up this one:

ISPs may require users to provide identifying information prior to accessing Internet content and services. The collection and preservation of identifying information associated with Internet data, and the disclosure of such information, subject to the appropriate safeguards, could significantly assist investigative and prosecutorial proceedings. In particular, requiring registration for the use of Wi-Fi networks or cybercafes could provide an important data source for criminal investigations. While some countries, such as Egypt, have implemented legislation requiring ISPs to identify users before allowing them Internet access, similar measures may be undertaken by ISPs on a voluntary basis.

I feel that when you point to the tools of a formerly dictatorial regime as a model of Internet security, you may be barking up the wrong tree. China, too, gets high marks:

In the terrorism context, in China there are provisions criminalizing different forms of terrorist activities, including article 120 of the Criminal Law, which criminalizes activities related to organizing, leading and participating in terrorist organizations. This broad criminalization provision covers a wide range of terrorism-related activities, including those carried out over the Internet.

Most of the advice in the report is fairly simplistic – increase cooperation, make sure terrorists don’t use Yahoo – but one line in particular is quite galling. In a set of recommendations, the task force notes that “Regulation of Internet-related services (e.g. ISPs) and content control” is an important must-do.

However, the report isn’t all doom and gloom. After all:

It is a commonly accepted principle that, despite the heinous nature of their acts, alleged terrorists should be afforded the same procedural safeguards under criminal law as any other suspects. The defence of human rights is a core value of the United Nations and a fundamental pillar of the rule-of-law approach to the fight against terrorism.

Does the report have enough teeth to be worrisome? I doubt it. However, as a model for legislation I believe that while the aforementioned terrorists will be afforded procedural safeguards, I think the spy first and ask questions later is an affront to not only those safeguards but to our privacy itself