Michael Joseph Gross describes the war for control of the Internet, for Vanity Fair:
I. Time Bomb
In 1979 the Dubai World Trade Centre dominated the skyline of Dubai City, on the horn of the Arabian Peninsula. Today, the World Trade Centre looks quaint, like an old egg carton stuck into the ground amid a phantasmagoric forest of skyscrapers. But come December the World Trade Centre will once more be the most important place in Dubai City—and, for a couple of weeks, one of the more important places in the world. Diplomats from 193 countries will converge there to renegotiate a United Nations treaty called the International Telecommunications Regulations. The sprawling document, which governs telephone, television, and radio networks, may be extended to cover the Internet, raising questions about who should control it, and how. Arrayed on one side will be representatives from the United States and other major Western powers, advocating what many call “Internet freedom,” a plastic concept that has been defined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the right to use the Internet to “express one’s views,” to “peacefully assemble,” and to “seek or share” information. The U.S. and most of its allies basically want to keep Internet governance the way it is: run by a small group of technical nonprofit and volunteer organizations, most of them based in the United States.
On the other side will be representatives from countries where governments want to place restrictions on how people use the Internet. These include Russia, China, Brazil, India, Iran, and a host of others. All of them have implemented or experimented with more intrusive monitoring of online activities than the U.S. is publicly known to practice. A number of countries have openly called for the creation of a “new global body” to oversee online policy. At the very least, they’d like to give the United Nations a great deal more control over the Internet.
Mediating these forces in Dubai will be a man named Hamadoun Touré. Charming and wily, he is a satellite engineer who was born in Mali, educated in the Soviet Union, and now lives in Geneva. He serves as secretary-general of the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union (I.T.U.).
Touré abjures pallid diplomatic doublespeak, instead opting for full-on self-contradiction that nonetheless leaves little doubt where his sympathies lie. In one breath Touré says, “The people who are trying to say that I.T.U. has an intention of taking over the management of the Internet simply do not know how the I.T.U. is functioning.” In the next, noting that Internet users in America represent only a tenth of the total, he says, “When an invention becomes used by billions across the world, it no longer remains the sole property of one nation, however powerful that nation might be. There should be a mechanism where many countries have an opportunity to have a say. I think that’s democratic. Do you think that’s democratic?”
There is a war under way for control of the Internet, and every day brings word of new clashes on a shifting and widening battlefront. Governments, corporations, criminals, anarchists—they all have their own war aims…
[continues in Vanity Fair]
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