The ITU, ICANN, and Control over the Internet
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a corporation under US law, is one of several nongovernmental organizations that regulate the Internet in a “‘multi-stakeholder’ governance model.” ICANN has effectively provided the U.S. with control over the running of the Internet.
Recently, the United States has been concerned about the possibility of the United Nation’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) attempting to wrestle control of the Internet from the U.S. and ICANN. In December, delegations from close to 200 countries will be meeting in Dubai to debate issues surrounding the control of the Internet and to renegotiate a 1988 telecommunications treaty.
Possible motivation for this recent power struggle has been tied to “Flame” and “Stuxnet”. Some reports argue that the U.S. created these two pieces of malware for espionage purposes, with Iran’s Intelligence Minister recently accusing of the United States, Israel, and Britain of planning an attack designed to weaken Iran’s nuclear program. The U.S.’s alleged connection to Flame has been used as a primary argument for taking control of the Internet away from the U.S., even though the ITU itself has “publicly doubt[ed] [that] Flame is the work of the U.S.
U.S. officials. lawmakers, and Internet advocates have expressed their concerns over what the ITU’s plans could result in, from taxes on large technological companies, censorship issues from countries like China and Iran, and adverse effects on innovation and growth. Recently, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a resolution, which “urges President Barack Obama’s administration to continue to stress that it is the ‘consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control.’” Resolution sponsor Representative Mary Bono Mack stated that the ITU proposals would “diminish the freedom of expression on the Internet in favor of government control over content” and “provide the United Nations with unprecedented new authority over management of the Internet.” In a Wall Street Journal article, FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell discussed the grave threat that ITU’s control over the Internet would pose, stating “[a]ny attempts to expand intergovernmental powers over the Internet—no matter how incremental or seemingly innocuous—should be turned back.”
Eli Dourado, research fellow at the George Mason University Mercatus center, has been one voice expressing concerns surrounding these ITU proposals, but stated that he didn’t “think a lot of these proposals will end up being passed,” but rather that the “ITU will use its opportunity in setting these mandatory standards to gain a foothold in defining certain types of content regulations.” Others feel the same way, stating that “it’s unlikely that it would ever get past the proposal stage given that ITU decisions are made by consensus (though they don’t have to be unanimous).”
Yet Commissioner McDowell still warns of possible ITU actions. Tom Giovanetti of the Institute for Policy Innovation wrote that Commissioner McDowell warned “that those who want to use the United Nations specialty organization the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) were well organized and sophisticated, that they are patient incrementalists, and that the attempt would be subtle rather than brazen.” Mary Bono Mack echoes these sentiments, stating “[d]espite denials, the Russians and Chinese are working quietly behind the scenes — and have been for years — to exert control over Web content and infrastructure.”