December 14, 2003

Small Victories

Posted by shonk at 01:32 AM in Politics | TrackBack

I admit to being a bit surprised at not having seen much coverage of the rejected proposal to put the Internet under UN control in the blogosphere. Aside from a Samizdata post rightfully excoriating the grandstanding of the despicable Robert Mugabe, I haven’t seen anyone take much note this week’s World Summit on the Information Society.

Part of the preliminary talks leading up to the WSIS, the proposal to put ICANN under the auspices of the UN including giving the US permanent presidency of an ICANN oversight committee) was apparently spearheaded by the likes of China, Egypt, Syria and Vietnam. Ultimately, the US, the EU, Japan and Canada carried the day on this particular issue, preferring to leave to Internet to its relative freedom.

Two points on this: first, the obvious deduction is that China, Vietnam, et al want the Internet to be UN-controlled so that they can get rubber-stamp approval for their own oppressive censorship of the web; second, as noted by the US delegation chief David A. Gross,

For the first time, we see governments internationally recognizing that which we have talked about for many years — that the Internet is a responsibility not only of governments, but also primarily of the private sector, civil society and others both in the developed and the developing countries.

So we see now a consensus around the U.S. position, which is that multistakeholders all play an important role in the process.

Or, as Robert Twomey, president of ICANN, puts it, “[t]he partnership of the private sector and civil society has actually helped build the Internet”. Twomey goes on to point out that the hot-button issues for the politicians, pornography and spam, fall well outside of ICANN’s charter (not that a charter has ever served as much of an impediment when it comes to politicians making soundbites and grabbing power).

If you read the article linked in the previous paragraph, you’ll note the following: ironically underscoring the governmental hubris underlying the whole sordid affair is the fact that, during the proceedings, Twomey and other “outside observers” were ejected from the discussion. Apparently, someone decided that only government officials are qualified to discuss how the Internet is run. Twomey was far from the only representative of civil society or business so snubbed, as 2600 news reports :

The irony here is fairly obvious: civil society is barred from talks at which governments and corporations sing the praises of unfettered access to communications, openness, and equal rights for all. Perhaps this is unsurprising given the way that many of the governments involved treat their own citizens. Indeed, Tunisia, home to the 2005 summit, is itself no fan of a free press, according to the international journalists’ organization Reporters Sans Frontières.

The plan for a 2005 summit in Tunisia is about the only thing actually accomplished at the WSIS, proving once again that the only thing the UN is really good at is writing non-binding constitutions and planning new summits.

One would like to think that the stance taken by the US against UN control of ICANN was a principled one, but maybe it was pure pragmatism (hey, anything’s possible). After all, it’s clear that the public sector cannot secure its own computers and networks, so why would anyone think it could do a better job with everyone else’s. Especially notable is this:

The newest department in the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security, got off to a bad start with an overall “F” for its computer security, despite the fact that securing the nation’s network is part of its mission.

Not that I’m the least bit surprised by this.


Luckily, some have already staged a "preemptive strike."

Posted by: mock at December 15, 2003 10:04 AM

I've been following the news on Freenet on and off for a while now. Are you involved in the development at all?

Posted by: shonk at December 15, 2003 12:03 PM

No, but it's interesting to note that Freenet is so decentralized that data housing is achieved at the node level; that is, if you run a Freenet node, you automatically collect and propagate arbitrary data on your node. Therefore, when "assman6969" publishes some pre-teen pics, you may end up harboring child pornography on your computer, which is illegal in the USA. Granted, the data is encryped, and it would be very difficult for the authorities to pinpoint anyone specifically, but, much like someone who receives and deletes child porn spam, it would technically be on your computer. Not that this is a huge problem at the moment, but once P2P networks start to come under heavier fire, who knows what will happen.

Posted by: mock at December 15, 2003 03:59 PM