Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The people who brought you the oil-for-food scandal now want to get their hands on the Internet. On Tuesday, a U.N. organization called the Working Group on Internet Governance proposed that the United Nations take control of regulating the Internet’s inner workings. Apparently, U.N. leaders think their failures in global security and humanitarianism qualify them to regulate the engine of the high-tech industry.

The U.N. group — which is a team of bureaucrats from, among other places, Cuba, Tunisia and Iran — envisions taking control of such Internet functions as registering domain names, settling disputes, conducting arbitration and fighting cybercrime. Currently, a U.S.-based nonprofit called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, handles basic registration functions. Traditional law enforcement bodies handle the rest. The United Nations would like to wrest all this from ICANN and governments because it thinks it is more inclusive and more transparent than the people who currently run the Internet. In all but one of its proposals, the U.N. envisions itself setting “international Internet public policy.”

Somewhere along the way the United Nations forgot to invite Silicon Valley. Its 40-member working group boasts not a single executive of a major technology company. It invited such “experts” on the Internet as Peiman Seadat from Iran’s U.N. mission in Geneva; Juan Fernandez, head of Cuba’s Commission of Electronic Commerce; Faryel Beji, president and CEO of the Tunisian Internet Agency; Baher Esmat, a telecom planner for the government of Egypt; and assorted other bureaucrats from Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Korea, Singapore and a few dozen other countries.

As usual on economic subjects, the United Nations is confusing matters. It thinks governments should call the shots on the Internet, when in fact the Internet’s relative freedom from government control is one of its great virtues. There could be no quicker way to foul up the high-technology industry than to hand the Internet over to bureaucrats of any kind, much less bureaucrats at the United Nations.

U.N. bureaucrats see the Internet as a resource to be plundered and distributed like government-funded aid programs. With its credibility in tatters after the oil-for-food scandal, it’s laughable that the United Nations thinks it can take on a new regulatory charge, to say nothing of one as complex as the Internet.

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