With very low visibility, a small agency in the United Nations - the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) - might be about to quietly try and regulate the entire Internet.
The ITU has planned a meeting this upcoming December where each of the 193 member nations will vote on various proposed Internet regulations. What's striking is that the details of the proposals have been kept secret, so it was impossible to know what authoritarian governments were plotting or how the U.S. was responding.
Until now. A pair of researchers from George Mason University created a website called WCITLeaks.org in the hopes that someone with access to the secretive proposals would leak them and make them available to the public. Last Friday, that's exactly what happened. Someone leaked the 212-page planning document being used by governments to prepare for the December conference. You can read it yourself here.
What it shows is breathtaking. First, China is proposing "to give countries authority over the information and communication
infrastructure within their state" and require that online companies
"operating in their territory" use the Internet "in a rational way"- in
short, to legitimize full government control.
Second, several proposals would give the U.N. power to regulate online content
for the first time, under the guise of protecting against computer
malware or spam.
Third, Russia and some Arab countries are proposing to be able to inspect private communications such as email.
Fourth, Iran and Russia are proposing new rules to measure Internet traffic along
national borders and bill the originator of the traffic, as with
international phone calls - essentially creating national toll booths for data.
Fifth, there is a proposal that would give the U.N. control over the Internet's Domain Name System, replacing ICANN which operates under a contract from the U.S. Commerce Department.
Take all of this in its totality and what we see are proposals that would A) grant power and authority over the very functioning of the Internet to the United Nations, and B) grant authoritarian governments the ability to censor, monitor, and more strictly control both the content of the Web itself and people's behavior on it. What's at stake is nothing less than a system based on open flows of information, as opposed to an "information world order" based on government controls.
L. Gordon Crovitz from the Wall Street Journal is right in his assessment: "Authoritarian regimes are busy lobbying a majority of the U.N. members
to vote their way. The leaked documents disclose a U.S. side that has
hardly begun to fight back. That's no way to win this war."
Everyone better wake up. Soon.