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Is the internet poised to get an owner?

Who owns the internet? Anybody will tell you that no-one owns the internet. It consist of about 40 000 networks interconnecting with some 425 000 routes delivering content and emails and whatnot to some two-billion people, growing at a rate of around 500 000 per day. It has no boss.

It may come as a surprise, but maybe by next week the internet could have a boss, an owner sort of. Many of the 193 member states of the UN have been voicing their disapproval of the un-managed nature of the internet. With international borders being “crossed” via the internet, ways of taxing and controlling it has become almost impossible. Yes, death and taxes are still the only two certain things in life…

And if all “goes well” the new boss could be the United Nations (UN). The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), established in 1865, is the leading contender of sorts, after being lobbied by various countries to take over the global workings of the internet. These are countries that include Iran, China and Russia. Countries that are known to curb and control communication to the worst standards. The last time the ITU had anything remotely important to do with telecommunications, was in 1988 before the internet even existed. To most it probably seems like a case of interfering bureaucrats trying to take over the internet. And they may well be correct.

Next month the ITU will be holding a negotiating bash in Dubai for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12). For the most part these negotiations will center on how the internet can be controlled. This comes after an August 2012 draft that could allow government restrictions and blocking of information via the internet.

The European Parliament has voiced its disapproval, urging its members to prevent the ITU from activity, stating that it would “negatively impact the internet, its architecture, operations, content and security, business relations, internet governance and the free flow of information online”. The resolution asserted that “the ITU is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over the internet”.

The list of possible modifications the ITU intends to implement, are as follows, and they are pretty scary:

Peering arrangements and the impact on costs of international Internet traffic, which may change the way users pay for Internet services today

“New technologies” regulation, which may open the way for censorship through technologies like DNS filtering that fragment the global Internet

Data privacy, including access by the state to what is considered private data today and owned by citizens or organizations

Cybersecurity, to give states more control over content and access to networks

Internet addresses, which may lead to changing the global address registry and how users access websites today

Mandated application of ITU-T recommendations, which may lead to slowing innovations, the diversion of technical resources from organizations, and fundamentally alter the open multi-stakeholder process responsible for developing the Internet today

Misuse, fraud and spam

Google has joined the fray of disapproval, saying that “governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct [the internet’s] future.”

Image: feelinsport

Author | Stephan Lourens

Stephan Lourens
Born 20 years too early. Curses sometimes. Thinks too much. Believes plug-and-play is the best invention ever. If asked what he wants for his birthday he will say a gadget, then money. So he can go buy a gadget. More