Monday, November 21, 2005

Keeping the Internet Free

Bravo to the WaPo. In an editorial, the paper disfavors handing over the architecture of the Internet to the United Nations:
It's possible that a multilateral overseer of the Internet might be just as efficient. But the ponderous International Telecommunication Union, the U.N. body that would be a leading candidate to take over the domain registry, has a record of resisting innovation -- including the advent of the Internet. Moreover, a multilateral domain-registering body would be caught between the different visions of its members: on the one side, autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia and China that want to restrict access to the Internet; on the other side, open societies that want low barriers to entry. These clashes of vision would probably make multilateral regulation inefficiently political.

You may say that this is a fair price to pay to uphold the principle of sovereignty. If a country wants to keep certain users from registering domain names (Nazi groups, child pornographers, criminals), then perhaps it has a right to do so. But the clinching argument is that countries can exercise that sovereignty

to a reasonable degree without controlling domain names. They can order Internet users in their territory to take offensive material down. They can order their banks or credit card companies to refuse to process payments to unsavory Web sites based abroad. Indeed, governments' ample ability to regulate the Internet has already been demonstrated by some of the countries pushing for reform, such as authoritarian China. The sovereign nations of the world have no need to wrest control of the Internet from the United States, because they already have it.
Hopefully this new penchant for multilateralism will never extend to a medium that has and will continue to change the way we live our lives.