Editorial: A UN Controlled Internet Should Never Happen

Earlier today, ZeroPaid reported on the development that some members of the United Nations are demanding that the UN should have the power to control the internet. Drew Wilson is giving his assessment on whether or not this should even happen.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

When I first heard about UN members wanting to regulate the internet, the first thing that popped in to my mind was, “will never work”. However, the second thing that came to my mind was that even if control was successful, one name – Galileo, the famous astronomer of the late 1500s to early 1600s.

Galileo put forth a theory that said that the Earth was not the center of the universe. The prevailing theory at that point in history was that the Earth, not the sun, was at the center of the universe. Unfortunately for Galileo, this drew controversy from the church and he came under significant pressure to denounce his theories.

Today, 400 years later, the issue really gave the church a black eye and I personally sat through numerous conversations hearing about the controversy. Many people say that the church should not have any business in interfering with science and any forms of human progress if it is contrary to what the church believes. Some might go so far as to say that the incident was ridiculous and should never be repeated ever again.

Yet here we are today, hundreds of years later and seemingly at the exact same crossroads. The faces are different, the rolls are slightly different, but it’s as if the same debate of progress vs. state intervention is happening again. Let’s put in place what the UN members are proposing and transpose the players with what happened with Galileo:

– the church is gone and we are replacing that the state, or the various governments
– Galileo would be replaced with the internet
– replace the arguments for and against an Earth-centered universe with arguments for and against an unregulated internet (with some minor editing, but you get the idea)
– replace scientific progress with free speech

So what do you get out of this? The same type of problem we’ve had several hundred years ago. The internet is bad and chaotic and therefore needs to be controlled. This sun-centered universe theory is bad and evil and needs to be brought under control. What Galileo is teaching is contrary to what the church believes. What the arguments for a free internet present is a threat to what the state believes and needs to be brought under control. How many differences are there compared to the similarities exactly?

Realistically, what did a “controlled” internet bring anyway? A preliminary version of AOL that didn’t stick around for very long? What did an “uncontrolled” internet bring us? Facebook, Youtube, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, Myspace, various chatrooms, iTunes, Soundclick, Open Source material, open licensed entertainment, venues for alternative music, podcasting, vidcasting, the blogosphere, internet news, ZeroPaid, EFF, World of Warcraft, other MMORPGs, Flash gaming, file-sharing, Bulletin board messaging, art sites, e-commerce, major ISPs, eBay, eMail, social news sites, Wikipedia, Wikileaks, enthusiast networks, a revival of the music video industry, independent game development, creators ability to connect with fans like never before, video conferencing, new business models for record labels, net labels, online music stores, eBooks, government officials much more easily connecting with their constituents, and on and on and on.

Should any state have the power to intervene on the significant progress the internet has made? Various states have already tried to ban YouTube already. Just take a look at the Wikipedia entry for the list of countries that tried to ban YouTube for instance. The countries that are seeking to control the internet in the UN are Brazil, India, South Africa, China, and Saudi Arabia. China and Brazil were both included on the list of countries that attempted to ban YouTube. The countries that said they are concerned with this move are US, UK, Australia, Belgium and Canada. None of them appear on the Wikipedia list of countries that tried to block YouTube.

What’s more interesting is general censorship of the internet based on country. Wikipedia has an extensive collection of various ways China censored the internet along with a decent sized article on India’s net censorship. We should note the existence of web censorship in the United Kingdom and the United States as well in all fairness.

The reality is this, there has been multiple countries engaged in censorship of the internet and no filter was ever completely successful. Even if various countries banded together to engage in censorship of the internet, there will always be a way to bi-pass the filters. The attempt to regulate the internet would be an overall waste of resources because such a task is a fools errand. Secondly, different countries have different agenda’s when discussing what should be censored of the internet. If one website is critical of another country, that other country could demand that website be banned, contrary to what that other country might think. It would ultimately lead to major disagreements pretty much from everyone involved. If every requested website was banned, there wouldn’t be much of an internet left. Even corporate based attacks on each other would not be out of the question in such a scenario. If certain countries wanted to filter the internet, that is their prerogative, but they shouldn’t go crying to the United Nations when they discover that their filtering system isn’t working.

Additionally, if something illegal is going on in a specific website, there is another method to go after that website – it’s called the legal system in that country. Yes, it’s much more complicated when introducing the internet in general given the various laws around the world, but a complicated legal case is no excuse to effectively shut down the internet. It’s akin to saying all motor vehicles should be banned because they could theoretically kill someone somewhere along the line. Could the abolishment of motor vehicles save lives? Perhaps, but at what cost exactly? Ambulances are motor vehicles too.

Then there’s potential corporate motivation behind what businesses can flourish and what businesses can’t. What if, say, Nintendo managed to get Sony banned from the internet because Sony thought of something that would provide an edge over Nintendo? It would provide an edge to Nintendo business-wise if Sony can’t use the internet in that case. This would be one in a countless number of Galileo-like cases where state is influencing any form of potential innovation thanks to objections of an incumbent force.

In short, regulating the internet is technically impossible, politically impossible and is a waste of time, effort and resources that would only be counterproductive if any progress is made to regulate the internet.

It’s not to say the internet is perfect in every way. If someone pretends to be a police officer on a Facebook page, well, guess what, such an act is already illegal a number of contries. If someone impersonates someone else and starts saying all these horrible things, well, degradation of character also exists on some law books and maybe one should be going online and saying that such a page is made by an imposter or something if such a thing is happening.

So, ultimately, I say regulating the internet is in nobodies interest – let alone not be in the interest of the UN. Nothing good will really come out of it in practice, nor would any such attempts ever be successful to begin with.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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