The UN hijacks the Internet

Some countries, including Russia, China and Iran, well known for their democratic efforts and respect for civil rights ( 🙂 ), seek more control over the Internet, through the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU).WCIT logo

As this year’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) is preparing for its December the 3th opening several documents have leaked on http://wcitleaks.org/  . Although these documents were not actually classified they were never made public. After they leaked the public opinion could see why: countries like China, Russia, Iran, Tadjikistan and Pakistan are asking for a complete change of the Internet as we know it.

What is ITU and what does it do?

The ITU was founded in 1865 to help regulate telegraph communications. Over the years it has evolved into an organization managing international telecommunications regulations (ITRs). As its last signed protocol dates back to 1988, previously to the invention of the Internet, some of the government representatives in the UN thought of how might the Internet be controlled. As a result some preposterous proposals surfaced on wcitleaks.org. Here are some of them:

UN proposals on Internet management

  • China proposed that governments should be in charge of internet traffic nation-wide. Online companies operating inside a given territory should use the Internet in “a rational way” or as WSJ puts it – handle over control and internet traffic information.
  • UN could handle online content however it finds appropriate
  • Russia and some of the Arab countries proposed access to Internet communications (like checking users emails, Facebook accounts etc.)
  • Iran and Russia proposed a charging method similar to international calls (users could be charged more for international traffic). Some European countries backed a similar proposal.

Why the Internet should stay just the way it is ?

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Vladimir Putin, a well known civil rights supporter

I find such proposals not only misguided but also economically dangerous and short sighted. For the last 20 years the world benefited greatly from the Internet being a somehow free media. Yes, the Internet is now manged by some US based organizations but this structure brought us a level of information we have never seen. Almost one third of the world is now connected and free to share ideas. Education, economy and general well being – they all improved with the free Internet.

I discussed  the dangers of over-regulating the Internet in a previous article. At the time I had no knowledge of such disturbing news. Even more disturbing is the fact that public media is not yet taking as much interest as it should in this matter. Forget ACTA, SOPA and all the other things the Internet stood against. This conference is a turning point in human history, just like the invention of the Internet was.

Should the proposals discussed above be accepted and enforced we will see a huge set back in economic development, education and civil rights. After all – the Internet is changing the status quo in a civilization that has been so far lead by fear, ignorance and hate. In a world that faces poverty, over population, countries armed with nuclear weapons, can we really accept to bury this diamond in the dirt?

Further reading:

Regulations will slow down Internet Economy Growth

adam smith like
Adam Smith would have “liked” the Internet Economy

Adam Smith published his famous book “The Wealth of Nations” (full title “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”) in 1776. Among others he observed what he called “The Invisible Hand” that helps society develop. Smith argued that even though economic players are pursuing their own interests they have to trade with others and thus balance and overall growth is achieved.

Smith believed those in power can’t be expected to treat public goods as their own. Overspending, bad management, corruption are bound to appear when governments achieve enough power. The author believed government power should be limited, markets should be free and self interest is the key to economic development. These requirements, however, have to work together. Otherwise the system can’t work. Self interest will drive those in the upper economic echelon into lobby groups, where they will ask and “purchase” favors from those that instill law and order. Such actions will hurt smaller economic players and increase wealth gap. In time the wealth gap will grow exponentially up to a moment society will have to restructure itself and as history taught us these kind of changes aren’t usually peaceful.

The global economy is far from free, government power is anything but limited and economic actions based on self interest are reserved for a select few.

Internet – the (almost) perfect market

Internet has proven that it is the closest thing we have to what Adam Smith described as a perfect market. It’s self regulated, markets are (mostly) free, governments can’t really control it and most of the economic players act in their self interest. Some people don’t like that.

In the Internet Economy consumers dictate the rise and fall of the economic agents. With the rise in Social Media the consumer influence increases ever more. However – it seems that recent events confirm Smith’s thoughts:

“People of the same trade seldom meet together even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public or some contrivance to raise prices.”

Think about SOPA, ACTA, and other such. The Internet has to stay as deregulated as possible if we expect it to continue its growth.