United Nations and the Internet: It’s Complicated Writes Rebecca Mackinnon

America’s two main political parties do not agree on much. But one thing they do agree on is “that the United Nations … should not be given control over a globally interconnected network that transcends the geography of nation-states,” writes Rebecca Mackinnon in Foreign Policy. “The Internet is too valuable to be managed by governments alone. Yet there is less agreement over how well the alternative ‘multistakeholder’ model of Internet governance is working — or whether it is really serving all of us as well as it might.”

Mackinnon notes the immediate threat is the “World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) scheduled for December in Dubai by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a U.N. body whose remit has thus far been limited to global telephone systems. Members meet behind closed doors.”

Proposed policy changes were leaked recently and published on the WCITLeaks website revealing “how a number of governments — in league with some old-school telecommunications companies seeking to regain revenues lost to the Internet — are proposing to rewrite global international telecommunications regulations in ways that opponents believe will corrode, if not destroy, the open and free nature of the Internet.”

Mackinnonn writes that only a few people have heard of ICANN or “the collection of regional internet registries that coordinate IP addresses, or the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).”

But she also says “this governance ecosystem has worked astonishingly well in managing the Internet’s exponential growth, largely because the system is so open and decentralized that any person anywhere on Earth with engineering or software-programming skills can invent new software applications, devices, and other networked technologies that can all interconnect with one another without needing to obtain permission or buy a license from anybody.”

But will they succeed? Mackinnon examines efforts to govern the internet, including the US’s attempt of regulation, with “some libertarians argue that the U.S. Congress — with legislative efforts like SOPA — is arguably as much a threat to the internet as the United Nations.”

Mackinnon concludes that “history has shown that all governments and all corporations will use whatever vehicles available to advance their own interests and power. The internet does not change that reality. Still, it should be possible to build governance structures and processes that not only mediate between the interests of a variety of stakeholders, but also constrain power and hold it accountable across globally interconnected networks. Right now, the world is only at the beginning of a long and messy process of working out what those structures and processes should look like. You might say we are present at the creation.”

To read this essay in full by Rebecca Mackinnon in Foreign Policy, go to: