The recent World Summit of the Information Society has generated a great debate about who should manage the Internet. Claudia Rosett, famous expert and critic of the United Nations, has some serious doubts that it should be the UN:
Any institution brazen enough to hold a “World Summit on the Information Society” in internet-censoring journalist-jailing Tunisia is obviously ready to try anything to get hold of the net. This initiative has been bubbling along since Tunisia first proposed it in 1998, and by now there have been enough conferences, theme papers, working groups and planning sessions so that this UN campaign has put down roots.
The UN portfolio of projects by now includes everything from the world economy to the weather. As you read this, an estimated 10,000 delegates and observers from 189 countries are meeting for 10 days in Montreal, Canada, to continue the UN discussions on climate change. It’s possible this meeting alone will generate enough hot air to melt the polar ice caps.
The danger by now is that the UN has two powerfully motivated interest groups, the censors and the taxers, both gunning for control of the net. And the UN has already sprouted a bureaucracy, complete with Prepcoms, to organize the next summit, and the next. The takeover bid failed in Tunis, but with enough time and persistence, it could very well happen.
Professor Peng Hwa Ang of Nanyang Technical University in Singapore is a member of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance and attended the recently concluded World Summit on the Information Society. The good doctor has a different opinion and has responded - feebly, in my opinion - to Ms Rosett on Pajamas Media:
Ms Rosett’s piece illustrates the kind of reaction that worries those of us who consider ourselves centrists and friends of the US in the debate over internet governance. I hope her views are not those of the informed in the USA, primarily because they ignore the concerns of Most of the Rest of the World (MRW) and come across as spin from the Department of Commerce.
The oil-for-food programme, as Mr Annan admits, should not have come under the UN. But I can understand why it did. Only the UN has the credibility as a third-party to be acceptable by Most of the Rest of the World (MRW). That credibility is reflected in the Internet Governance Forum. In the end, after looking around, MRW decided to park it under the UN Secretary General. Given the choice—trust the US or trust the UN—unlike Ms Rosett from the USA, MRW chose the latter.
Dr. Peng's response revolves almost entirely around the concept Most of the World (MRW) which he tries to sell as a very democratic way to approach the problem. However, he forgets (or conveniently pretends to) that much of MRW is made of countries like Iran, Cuba, China, Zimbabwe, various Arab dictatorships (including Tunisia), &c.
Now, if you talk of democratic management of the Internet, let's hear what the democratic countries want. The UN will never stand for democracy until membership criteria are introduced so that members are valuable contributors instead of oppressive and corrupt dictatorships bent on maintain control on their waning power at all costs.
Dr. Peng is trying to give legitimacy to countries who have no right to ask, demand, plead or pretty please anything at all. This is the paradigm shift required now. These countries can, at best, be given the role of observers so they can learn something, but they should never be allowed to have a say in how the democratic world runs its business. They could form a parallel organization (without powers of course) to a real democratic UN; they could call it...MRW.
Pamela has some thoughts too and while you are there you might want to vote for her in the Weblog Awards 2005!