Next week, Congress will hold a hearing on international control of the Internet.
This rather arcane topic hasn't gotten the juices flowing of all the kids fearing takedowns of their Tumblr blogs in the way SOPA has but some of the leading "freedom fighters" like Rebecca MacKinnon have spoken out against having the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) run the Internet.
As we all know from hoary Internet legend, once upon a time the Internet was created by geeks at the US military, and then graciously handed over to their fellow geeks in industry and academia who decided it was "better" if not the US government, but an international non-profit society of professionals would run it, ostensibly without partisan bias.
So there is ICANN, which is supposed to concern itself only with certain very technical issues like naming convention and domains -- but of course, this rapidly becomes political as any "society of professionals" will have to grapple with the ongoing, central dispute of our time, which continues to be (whether you like it or not, or whether you feel it is cool or not), capitalism versus communism. Recently, the fight was over whether business domains like .cocacola could be added for a price. Long-time advocates of the "commons" as a collectivist dream like Esther Dyson objected, but it went ahead anyway because business funds Internet growth and this is what they themselves need for growth. There are other international standards bodies with other issues.
The world conference of the ITU this month sparked a few appeals, notably from a coalition of human rights groups. These included the usual suspects who themselves want to control corporations who actually provide the Internet, i.e. insisting, with freedom of expression trumping freedom of association in their minds, that Amazon be forced to store WikiLeaks and that MasterCard process payment for WikiLeaks, even though this Leninist anarchist group, now publicly taking the Kremlin's side this week on Syria, has incited the crime of stealing classified cables from the US government and incited the harm of the sources mentioned in them.
So Rebecca MacKinnon speaks out against the ITU running things, as do some other groups, but their solution is merely to get the ITU to cut them in. Hence, this appeal coordinated by Human Rights Watch and others leaning toward the "progressive" agenda (which includes government interference in the form of imposition of "net neutrality").
Yes, every international body should have NGO input and be more transparent about their deliberations and documents. This is always the case. So sure, ask for that at ITU. But what is the ultimate goal? The goal is to impose the "multistakeholder approach" rather than have states decide -- and that needs to be unpacked, as it is merely a stalking horse for the "progressive" agenda.
The "multistakeholder" approach is attractive to those who a) want to get rid of the oversized influence of hostile states like Russia, China, Iran, Saudia Arabia, etc. and balance it out with other kinds of forces b) want corporations in the tent, especially if they are cool corporations they like, such as Google; c) want their own NGOs to have influence, of course.
It replaces one problem with another, however -- the corporations have no democracy among their users, and the NGOs don't represent multiple forces in society such as a parliament would. They usually represent the international jet-set of "progressives" who bother with these sorts of meetings and have the funds to attend them and draft proposals.
"Multi-stakeholderism" never impresses me because it's merely a way for one set of lobbyists to do what they can't get done lobbying their own states or other states. It's not more authentic of "peoplehood" -- it's just a different form of lobbying. All talk of "the global south" ends up being merely yet another foil to put in progressive lobbyists, not the authentic global south.
What NGOs should be doing isn't merely demanding entry to the process but coming up with specific goals about what they want states *not* to do -- in other words, be transparent about their own agendas. In general, the task here should be affirming the "negative rights" -- how to keep state censorship, control, etc. out of the Internet's free realm. They should not be about fighting anti-piracy legislation under the guise of "freedom of expression".
The problem is that MacKinnon's coalition, Global Network Initiative, doesn't just want to fight for the "negative" rights but wants state intervention on certain goals they do like, such as "net neutrality," where they have partially succeeded (although not yet on mobile, so there is hope to keep them at bay).
I was disturbed to see that the special rapporteur on the media at the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) took a position praising the Netherlands' new law on "net neutrality" -- something it should have stayed out of. "Net neutrality" is not an OSCE goal or a freedom goal; it's a consumption and business problem that free markets in free societies solve. Go0gle and its lobbyists in outfits like GNI and the Fight for the Future (which has a new astroturf campaign for freedom run by the same old anti-copyright forces funded by Mitch Kapor that have run all these campaigns for a decade) are merely converting the consumption/bandwidth/business issue to a "freedom" one as it is in their own business interest.
The Internet Governance Project, a group of evidently "progressive" academics who don't display on their website where they get their funding, is predictably dismissing "the threat" from the ITU which they call "a paper tiger".
They think the threat to the Internet doesn't come from China or Iran or Russia operating through the ITU, they think it comes from... the Washington think-tank CSIS. That's because CSIS has set up a scary...task force (!)...to become involved in these issues. Good for CSIS!
Internet Governance Project gets upset at any effort to discredit "multi-stakeholderism" (themselves and their own ideological influence).
Lurking under all the objections to CSIS are the old stories -- loathing of commerce and US leadership in the world, even as commerce on the Internet as it is now is welcomed.
IGP sneers at any concern about global terrorism and hostile states like China and Russia attacking the Internet itself and their enemies such as the US. They think this is old-fashioned Cold War thinking that is out of date in our modern age.
It's too bad that Russia itself is out of date still mired in the Soviet mentality that fuels the Cold War largely on their side. Which state threatened to launch a missile attack against other states recently? Not the US, but Russia. Which state supplies $1 billion in arms to Syria? Not the US, but Russia. That's a reality that IGP progs can't concede.
But ask Ustream about Russia and you will see where the real war in cyberspace is going on despite IGP's claims of the happy lightweight Internet governance still working fine.
Ustream has suffered three very powerful and coordinated attacks in the last month, all via a Russian user's account who was an independent citizen journalist covering the demonstrations.
Journalists such as those at Daily Beast still frame the question as "Did the Russian Authorities Shut Down Ustream"?
But Brad Hunstable, the CEO of UStream, who happens to be a West Point graduate, said it was "highly coordinated" and left no doubt that only a state could organize this level of an attack. “It’s an attack on the freedom of the Internet” said Hunstable.
It's always the case that even when obvious Chinese government attacks are made, that the media and experts on the Internet leave it open to doubt. This was said about attacks on Google's servers, which ultimately forced Google to leave China, while WikiLeaks later revealed that it was a Chinese official who was disgruntled about how he appeared in search (it's too bad this information had to come through the crime of WikiLeaks and not journalists being more curious about their own evasive and ambivalent insistence that these attacks aren't really government controlled).
Google probably has never forthrightly conceded that they were attacked by the Chinese state itself; these companies always leave this vague because they don't want to publicly admit it and thereby declare war.
But war is already underway, and the US decision to fight it as a state is the right thing to do; there is a new office of the US military and a number of programs related to the need for this fight. IGP dismisses this as war-mongering "security theater". Ustream takes it seriously and fights back by even making a special Russian channel.
IGP speaks of the CSIS critique of weak Internet governance structures, and says "to blame them for not facilitating a rapid U.S. military response to hypothetical cyber attacks seems dangerously wrong-headed."
I'm not sure CSIS was actually demanding that some pallid UN committee weaponize for US attacks. Yet we live in a world where the militaries and intelligence agencies of Russian, Chinese, Iran, etc. are *already* in a rapid military response *already* launching military attacks. We're supposed to hum in a committee with engineers while that goes on, and the progressives remain in denial?
Military attacks require military responses, full stop.
There is a persistence by the geeks and their fan bases in perceiving the Internet as "special". As an "autonomous realm" that should not be marred by states or corporations.
When it comes to shipping, air traffic, postal, etc. communications, there are various international bodies in and out of the UN that manage standards, best practices, disputes. None of those bodies actually resolve the worldwide conflict between capitalism and communism (now technolibertarianism and technocommunism). None of them actually govern shipping, rails, mailing, etc.
But those avenues of communications are easier to govern because they are self-contained channels that states and corporations can control easily. While non-state actors attack them with hijacking or terrorism, this is rare.
Meanwhile, the Internet itself is more fluid and open and subject to constant attack through viruses and DDOS attacks. It's a problem some would like to see more like water and global climate change than like shipping, yet I don't believe it requires "special status" as some sort of "different" human artifact that shouldn't be governed by the rule of law which is based on state sovereignty and cooperation with other states under negotiated international law.
We don't have a "multi-stakeholder approach" to international postal standards or to international shipping management. NGOS aren't fighting to get in to audit the Universal Postal Union's deliberations.
So it's merely because some NGOs see this ground as a place to fight their political fights for their political agenda of demands consistent with their worldview advocating world governance.