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The U.N.'s Threat to the Net
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, writing in The Washington Post, declared that it is a "mistaken notion" that the U.N. "wants to ‘take over,' police or otherwise control the Internet." Unfortunately, neither the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the WSIS' Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) or the Secretary General's column give comfort to those committed to cyber-freedom.

Despite Secretary General's assurances that the purpose of the WSIS is to "ensure that poor countries get the full benefits that new information and communication technologies...." taking over the internet appears a direct aim of the WGIG. One of the Recommendations from the "Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance" is to "Clarify the institutional arrangements needed to guarantee continuity of a stable and secure functioning of the root system during and after a possible period of governance reform." If that doesn't sound like a planned takeover of the internet what does?

The column also states that "To defend the Internet is to defend freedom itself." But many of the participants in the WGIG are contemptuous of freedom. The WGIS' membership includes representatives of Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China and Iran; countries that strongly suppress and punish of freedom of expression.

Mr. Annan urged "all stakeholders to come to build an open, inclusive information society that enriches and empowers all people." The Secretary General apparently didn't even see the irony holding a conference on building an open information society in a country that, according to Reporters Without Borders "cracks down ruthlessly on free expression. The government censors the Internet and uses alleged cyber-crime to justify arbitrary imprisonment. Nine young Internet users were sentenced in April 2003 to sentences of up to 26 years in prison for just downloading files deemed by the authorities to be dangerous."

Another of the WGIG's recommendations is that governments should "develop tools and mechanisms... to allow for effective criminal investigation and prosecution of crimes committed in cyberspace... addressing the problem of cross-border jurisdiction, regardless of the territory from which the crime was committed..." which sounds wonderful until you realize that the term "crime" is not defined. Virtually all free speech is a crime in some of the countries that are closely involved in the WSIS and WGIG. Do we really want Americans or the residents of any country to be internationally prosecuted for activities that are considered a crime in Cuba, Iran or Saudi Arabia?

The technical institutions that govern the internet are already international in character with strong participation from citizens around the globe. To defend the status quo is to "defend freedom itself."

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