Neena Kapur | The IT Guru
Who should control the Internet?
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 07:09
The Internet is powerful. It enables us to access libraries upon libraries of information instantaneously, communicate with others across the world and stay up to date on events both locally and abroad. But that’s just the beginning. Just like every other powerful entity in the world — nuclear weaponry, nature, Wolverine, etc. — there is a battle over who is in control. In the Internet’s case, the battle is waged between individual countries and overarching organizations — more specifically, the United States and the United Nations.
Currently, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an organization commissioned by the U.S. government, is in charge of coordinating IP address space, assignment of address blocks, management of top-level domain name space and maintenance of registries.
For slightly less than a decade, it has been suggested that ICANN transfer some, if not all, of its power over to the UN agency responsible for communication technologies, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). In 2003, this issue of Internet control was the primary topic of discussion in ITU’s World Summit on Information Society. However, the United States has made no indication that it will relinquish any of its control to the international community.
When examining this debate, there are a few pertinent issues that need to be discussed. For example, why should one country maintain control of a global entity? Though it may seem intuitive to think that the ITU should control the Internet, as it would allow the international community to help regulate and allocate the web, it is not the best solution.
The ever-relevant problem with the United Nations is that it cannot achieve many of its goals because of its commitment to letting nation-states be primary actors in governance. Furthermore, world powers tend to dictate the course of many UN conferences. The ITU could fall victim to these same problems.
For example, countries like Russia and China have publicly defined terrorism to include any form of speech that is against the interests of the government. If the ITU were to have control over the Internet, it would be much more susceptible to influence from these powers and the Internet would be continuously heavily regulated. Currently, both China and Russia are suggesting that the ITU should be responsible for at least IP address allocation, and intend to bring it up in the upcoming ITU conference in Dubai.
The U.S. submission for the ITU conference states, “proposals by some other governments could lead to greater regulatory burdens being placed on the international telecom sector.” With that in mind, the best course of action is for the US to continue backing ICANN.
At this point in time, the battle seems to be over who has control over the Internet, while the issue should be who shouldn’t have control over the Internet. Maintaining control of ICANN is the most strategic global action, as it would prevent the Internet from falling into the hands of those who may abuse its power and impose unwanted regulatory actions.
ICANN is far from perfect, but its procedures are ones that can be tailored to have a more multilateral approach. The largest complaint against ICANN is that it considers corporate agendas over global governmental agendas. This can be changed with modifications to ICANN, rather than a transfer of power to an international organization.
Though international collaboration is often ideal, when it comes to the Internet, it is not always the best course of action. International politics revolves around dominant players, making any UN attempts to allow for collaborative control vulnerable to control of the few world powers — all of which have their own agendas. Sticking with ICANN is the safest solution for the future of the Internet. Though ICANN should be modified to cater to global commons, the Internet should remain in its control.
Neena Kapur is a sophomore majoring in international relations. She can be reached at Neena.Kapur@tufts.edu.