If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

By Charles Miller

A reader wrote commenting on an earlier column describing the opposition to having the United Nations and its agency the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) take over control of the internet. I was asked, “Why not let the United Nations take over the internet?”

It is not because UN members Nauru (population 9,945) and Tuvalu (population 10 thousand) would have an equal vote to Mexico (population 112 million) or the United States (population 315,056,000) in decision-making.

It is not because the politicians of the UN member states would have a vote on how to run the internet, but the communications companies, engineers, and technicians who have to actually make things work would have no vote.

It is not because the head of the ITU, Dr. Hamadoun Touré of the Republic of Mali, educated at the Technical Institute of Electronics and Telecommunication of Leningrad and at Moscow Technical University of Communication and Informatics in the pre-glasnost era is quoted as saying, “The internet remains largely [the] rich world’s privilege” and “the ITU wants to change that.”

It is not even because having the UN in charge of the internet finances would surely make the multi-billion dollar graft of the UN’s Iraq Oil for Food program look like pocket change.

No, none of the above. I simply happen to agree with the large number of levelheaded individuals who have said, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!” The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has so far done a fair and impartial job of governing the internet.

In 1998 the Clinton administration made a wise and far-sighted decision when it removed the authority for day-to-day governance of the internet from the US Commerce Department and created ICANN as a semi-independent, non-government agency. Critics argue that it is not as independent as it should be, but an overwhelming majority of nations are satisfied enough with the status quo and not willing to risk changes with unknown consequences, such as putting U.N. bureaucrats in charge.

This is not to say the ITU does not have a voice. Since its creation in 1865, the ITU has been making suggestions to its membership of 193 nations and more than 700 associates (companies such as Motorola, and many universities). For more than a century most countries have adopted proposed telecommunications standards from the ITU and for that reason telegraph, radio, telephone, and now internet communications are largely compatible across national boundaries. There is no reason the ITU cannot continue making their suggestions, non-binding suggestions, and when those ideas have merit I am sure ICANN will listen.

I have my own personal suggestion to make, and that is that ICANN should start to show more independence from the government of the United States. With court orders valid in the United States the Obama administration required ICANN to take down a number of web sites for violating US copyright laws and other sites deemed to be in violation of the economic embargo of Cuba, even though those web sites were located outside the US ICANN complied, and in so doing set a very bad precedent. What if now the Supreme Leader of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, presents an order legally issued by the Revolutionary Court of Iran to shut down sites in violation of Islamic law? The list could start with facebook.com, google.com, jerusalempost.com, match.com, twitter.com…

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.


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