As Americans focused on the U.S. presidential election, the United Nations and a wide swath of its autocratic member regimes were drafting a plan to give a little-known UN agency control over the online world. Among the most contentious schemes: a plot to hand the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) a so-called “kill switch” for the Internet that critics say would be used to smash free speech.
The ITU’s proposals to “reform” the Internet, drafted in secret and quietly published online last week, revealed a broad plan to rein in what, up until now, has been a largely unregulated tool allowing people all over the world to freely express their views at little to no cost financially. Unlike dictatorships such as the communist regime ruling over mainland China and the governments of Muslim-dominated countries, most Western-style governments have been unable or unwilling to regulate the Web apart from minor restrictions on subjects such as child pornography and the like.
However, that could all change soon — at least if the UN and its tyrannical member states get their way, with a broad coalition of Islamist autocrats and communist despots joining forces to quash freedom of expression for everyone. Representatives from almost 200 governments and dictatorships will be meeting behind closed doors next month at the “World Conference on International Telecommunications” (WCIT) in the United Arab Emirates to discuss handing complete control over the internet to the ITU.
The widely condemned ITU plan calls for reforms that would stifle free speech, regulate social media, force Internet users to pay “fees” for services like Skype and e-mail, and much more. Among the chief problems cited by analysts is a plan to allow UN members to demand that the ITU shut down content they do not approve of. The scheme would also create a global Internet surveillance regime while permitting governments to restrict or block online information. Anonymity on the Web would become a thing of the past, too.
Incredibly, the controversial plan would also purport to allow governments to shut down the Web if they claimed it could “interfere” in the internal affairs of other UN member regimes. On top of that, dictators and increasingly authoritarian governments all over the world would be able to shut down the Internet if there were a risk that “sensitive” information could be shared — essentially a blank check that would allow any despot or government to kill the Web if their criminality were about to be exposed. In other words, the UN, widely blasted and ridiculed as a “dictators club,” would have a “kill switch” over the Internet.
Numerous Western governments have suggested they will oppose the growing coalition of totalitarian-minded regimes seeking to “govern” the Internet — an alliance that includes some mega-corporations as well as a motley assortment of African despots, Islamist tyrants, communist autocracies, and even socialistic powers such as the governments ruling Brazil and India.
The Obama administration, however, while claiming to support a free Internet despite repeated unconstitutional power grabs aimed at increasing federal power over the Web, has warned Americans not to criticize the deeply controversial global entity. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer also said it was “important” for the U.S. government to participate in the controversial discussions and that it had to address the supposed concerns of various despotic regimes. “Our messages need to be issues-orientated and fact-orientated — not taking shots at the U.N., not taking shots at leadership,” he said.
However, despite the controversial comments, Kramer did say the U.S. government would seek to prevent any UN curbs on free speech or excessive regulation. “We need to avoid suffocating the Internet space through well-meaning but overly prescriptive proposals that would seek to control content or seek to mandate routing and payment practices,” the ambassador claimed. “That would send the Internet back to a circuit switch era that is actually passing in history.”
Experts and analysts said that rather than expanding the ITU regulatory regime, the conference should focus on abolishing existing international regulations over telecommunications. But with tyrants of all persuasions salivating at the potential opportunity to quash Internet freedom at the global level, the battle, for now at least, will likely surround preserving the online liberty that currently exists — quite possibly, according to activists, one of the keys to ensuring the survival of freedom.