- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2012

Imagine if everything you did online was subject to monitoring and control by the United Nations. Powerful authoritarian states, including China and Russia, are spearheading an effort to place the most potent information system in the world under centralized international control. They want the Internet to work with the same efficiency, speed and reliability as the U.N.

This week, Congress will consider legislation to amend the 1988 International Telecommunication Regulations to give the U.N. extraordinary powers over the Internet. In September, the authoritarian bloc submitted a proposal titled “The International Code of Conduct for Information Security.” In theory, it seeks to systematize and standardize the Internet and establish rules for maintaining cybersecurity. In fact, it will give the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) - a U.N. agency that oversees global telecommunications - vast new powers to regulate and control access to the Internet and information flow in cyberspace.

That Beijing and Moscow are backing the idea is enough to know it’s a bad one. The free flow of information has always been an enemy of thuggish regimes. To them, individual expression and the unlimited exchange of ideas - which the Internet has made possible for some oppressed people for the first time in history - must be stamped out. Such countries view the Internet as a vast intelligence operation, a means of collecting sensitive information on people and preventing freedom of expression through a sophisticated array of censorship tools.

Some critics see the proposal as an affront to the decentralized, dispersed, free-form nature of the Internet. Worse, however, are the vast national security implications to international control of the Internet. This was pitched as a way of securing the Internet, but centralizing the system will only give security to those who wind up in control of the network. It’s foolish to believe the U.N. will act as a disinterested agency free of pressure from member states. For comparison, consider that China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia are on the U.N. Human Rights Council. Assuming a similar cabal would be better at protecting the system from cyberthreats than individual states or private entities is unrealistic. The U.S. government handling of the cybersecurity issue has been dysfunctional enough; imagine putting the U.N. bureaucracy on top of it.

There are economic consequences as well. The Internet is critical to American commerce, and it would not be in the country’s interest to give any measure of control over that to an international body. The damaging impact on personal privacy and open communication can only be imagined. Given the repressive nature of the architects of the proposal, it’s reasonable to conclude that over time, the Internet would become less free, less safe, less private, less available, more restricted and more controlled. Americans invented the Internet. Let’s keep it.

The Washington Times