IS THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE INTERNET ABOUT TO END?

If so inclined, one could spend the rest of one’s life trying to understand the technology of the Internet.  The subject is breathtakingly complex and, for those who do not make their living in occupations that involve a mastery of high levels of information technology, almost incomprehensible.  If anyone claims to understand the technological functions of ICANN, the U.S. company that manages the registry of IP addresses and domain names and protocol parameters, you should check out the person’s technology background very carefully. 

When it comes to the existing arrangements for the legal regulation of the Internet, the subject is not nearly as complex, though if someone claims to understand the legal basis for ICANN’s authority to do whatever it is that it does, you should still be skeptical.  And if anyone tries to give you a list of reasons why it would be a good thing for the U.S., or the world in general, to unmoor ICANN from its legal/contractual connections (such as they are) with the US government, you should assume you are being offered assurances with approximately the same level of credibility as “you can keep your healthcare plan,” “you can keep your doctor,” and “this will save you money.”

Yes, ICANN performs its Internet-related services under a contract with an agency of the U.S. government.  Yes, that contract is due to expire shortly and does not have to be renewed by our government.  And yes, our Congress, were it so inclined (i.e., were the Democrats not still in nominal control of the Senate), could adopt legislation that, if not vetoed, would prevent the termination of ICANN’s Internet control by the U.S. government.  But in this case, because we are not talking about an active use (or abuse) of executive authority by our rogue President, but merely an election NOT to take executive action to renew an otherwise expiring contract, there is probably nothing illegal about the President’s apparent decision to apply the practical equivalent of a pocket veto – he can effectively terminate the U.S.’s control over the Internet by simply heading for the golf course and doing nothing.  Simple as that.  By just doing nothing, the President can effectively terminate the Golden Age of information technology!

Do I exaggerate?  The Lefties’ position, predictably, is that we are no longer living in the 20th century, the Cold War era.  The U.S. is no longer an international force for world peace and stability and assistance for the needy and the victims of authoritarian horror.  Our past policy of interventionism was not based upon being a “do-gooder,” it was merely a way of advancing our economic interests and capturing resources of others, and now is the time to put a permanent end to our efforts to control commerce and behavior beyond our borders.  ICANN, under our control, has not done a perfect job.  We should be an unexceptional member of the international community, not an Internet monopolist that imposes its will upon others.

I disagree.  First of all, the power to control IP addresses and domain names and other aspects of Internet operations is critical – do you know what it means to the non-elites living/struggling in China, Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria (while there was still hope), etc., having to do all kinds of computer wizardry on a daily basis just to keep information lines open and do workarounds to deal with their oppressive governments?  What I foresee is that the “international community,” however defined, will inevitably include the world’s bullies and bad guys.  Not just North Korea, Iran, Cuba, the usual suspects, but the two big ones that everyone is afraid to include on the list:  China and Russia.  You think those nations would allow the international Internet to continue to operate as a more-or-less free medium?  You think they would not impose internationally the same standards of censorship and suppression and individual national interest they now impose internally?  Have you ever traveled to China and tried to use the Internet?  Do you really think that the U.S., for all its flaws, despite its greedy, capitalistic, Wild West private economy, does a worse job of managing the Internet than the Chinese and the Russians would do?  Do you believe the U.S. is a less-benevolent “dictator” of Internet regulation than the United Nations, or a Chinese/Russian veto-dominated consortium, would be?  Are you one of those utopian fantasists who still persist in the fiction of “international law,” as though it were not so consistently subordinated at the point of a gun? Do you really believe the people of Iran, Syria, Ukraine, and the rest of the former Soviet satellite states think they would be better off with an Internet operated under “international” control?  Do you think those people want the U.S. to withdraw from its limited role in regulating the Internet?

By the way, do you think it is a coincidence that the President’s decision was announced late on a Friday evening, when the US media were still preoccupied with a missing aircraft?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>