So the Wall Street Journal has only now just finally noticed that the freedom of the internet is under attack?
The open Internet, available to people around the world without the permission of any government, was a great liberation. It was also too good to last. Authoritarian governments this month won the first battle to close off parts of the Internet.
At the just-concluded conference of the International Telecommunications Union in Dubai, the U.S. and its allies got outmaneuvered. The ITU conference was highly technical, which may be why the media outside of tech blogs paid little attention, but the result is noteworthy: A majority of the 193 United Nations member countries approved a treaty giving governments new powers to close off access to the Internet in their countries.
As disturbing as this is, I would hardly qualify it as the ‘first’ of digital defeats. These kinds of erosions and usurpations have been taking place in various forms and through various initiatives for quite some time now. It’s a constant battle. There have been the SOPA and PIPA fights, for example. And there are disturbing threats looming from the likes of the Congressional cybersecurity bill, Joe Lieberman’s Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). This would provide the government broad powers in the name of supporting corporate cybersecurity, while granting those same corporations complete immunity for helping the government spy on private citizens (which they are already doing). It would also give the government the authority to, in “time of emergency,” take control over the net itself, much like Mubarak tried in
Egypt during the uprisings. And on and on and on…
Also, the writer of this article, by his statement that this is “the first battle to close off parts of the Internet,” seems to not have been paying attention to what has been going on in China for years now (with active support from American tech firms), when it comes to ‘authoritarian governments’ taking control over the net. Or even to what the U.S. government has been doing with online surveillance, its collaboration with corporations such as AT&T, Facebook, etc… in its development of new forms of mass surveillance and the like. Heck, if there is concern about ‘closing off parts of the internet,’ where has he been in regards to corporations such as AOL and its “walled garden” approach to the net, or the efforts by huge telecoms to erode net neutrality and common carriage principles?
Robert McDowell, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission, summarized the harm. “Consumers everywhere will ultimately pay the price for this power grab as engineers and entrepreneurs try to navigate this new era of an internationally politicized Internet,” he said. “Let’s never be slow to respond again.”
One lesson is that the best defense of the Internet is a good offense against an overreaching U.N.
How about overreaching media corporations, as well? Funny he mentions Robert McDowell, whose role at the FCC helped facilitate part of this ongoing media consolidation by some of the world’s largest media firms, including through their efforts to eliminate ‘net neutrality’ provisions, which are aimed towards slowing (to the point of effectively closing) the net to traffic that the company doesn’t deem ‘useful’ to their own interests or its partners?
Net Neutrality principles are essential to preserving open access by everyone, equitably to internet content (the very principles this author is decrying are being eroded by this move by the U.N.). Tim Wu (the creator of the term) and Lawrence Lessig have written extensively about these issues, and their insights should be heeded.
There is no doubt this is all part of a long-running battle on many fronts, which needs to be challenged anywhere and everywhere it rears its ugly head.
Here’s some more on this issue from the Los Angeles Times.