- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

The great beauty of the Internet is that no single entity — much less a government — controls it. Thus this week’s developments at the U.N. summit on the Internet in Tunisia are hopeful ones.

The would-be regulators of the Internet have been thwarted, at least for now, in their attempts to give the United Nations control of the Internet’s administrative functions, a move that would have opened the way for repressive governments — like Tunisia’s, hard at work outside the summit’s doors — to restrict content and quell dissenters.

The propitious moment came Tuesday night, when negotiators announced a deal to leave the Internet in the hands of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers, a California non-profit that handles domain-name assignments and makes sure Web addresses work the way they should. The United States, under the able leadership of Ambassador David A. Gross, had wanted to leave well enough alone all along. But until this week the European Union wavered between the U.S. position and that of the regulators, a camp that included China, Iran and others with governments whose intentions toward the Internet are clearly predatory.

Would-be regulators didn’t come away from this empty-handed: The agreement creates an “Internet Governance Forum,” described as a place for “stakeholders” to convene to discuss issues. Nominally, this is a fine idea, but “Internet governance” turns out to be a catch-all not just for real problems, like security and the “digital divide,” but also censorship and repression. For at least some unsavory governments, “Internet governance” is a code word for a range of restrictive activities they’d like to undertake.

Incidentally, while the U.N. summiteers were at work, so too were Tunisian henchmen no more than a few miles down the road. An official news outlet announced “new financial incentives to boost the newspapers of political parties” as well as the launch of a “cultural radio station” to “consolidate Tunisia’s image and make known its cultural production.” While those sound mostly like statist buffoonery, not every move by Tunisian authorities is. In May, the African newswire Afrol reported that a Tunisian lawyer was jailed for supposedly posting “false news” on the Internet. The country’s restrictions “are among the most restricted in the Arab world,” according to Freedom House.

Why U.N. busybodies ever thought arguments from such governments deserved any respect is beyond us. We’re glad to see they have been disregarded, at least for now. From here, reasonable people should keep the “Internet governance” forum focused on real issues and not excuse governments looking to repress their people.

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