Old Europe and the despotic nations want exactly that--international Internet content control. And they have convinced the EU establishment that U.N. control of the Internet would be just and appropriate. The last United Nations World Summit on the Internet--held in 2003--concluded that "governments should intervene . . . to maximize economic and social benefits and serve national priorities." The report of the U.N. Working Group on Internet Governance says it would have "respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, " explaining that meant "multilingual, diverse, and culturally appropriate content" on the Internet.Claudia Rosett:
And what is "culturally appropriate" content? If your nation is a free society--America, Ireland, Australia--a free and unregulated-content Internet is a good thing. For dictatorships and state controlled societies--the former USSR, China or Cuba--it is a catastrophe, for allowing citizens free access to information puts your government at risk. And if you are in between--a socialist government like France or Germany--U.N. control is a good thing because government control is always better than unregulated markets.
…the corruption and incompetence at U.N. headquarters, however disturbing, are the least of the problems linked to the U.N.'s bid to control interconnectivity. The deeper trouble is that the U.N. has embraced the same tyrants who in the name of helping the downtrodden are now seeking via Internet control to tread them down some more.
That is hardly the kind of information, however, that U.N. organizers of this Tunis turf grab are about to share. The U.N. Web site for this event goes heavy on high-tech doo-dads, and very light on the highly relevant big picture. For instance, the site includes two scroll bars. One shows select news coverage of the summit. The other shows funding contributions from various quarters, including the governments of Syria, Libya and Saudi Arabia, all distinguished as perennial members of Freedom House's list of the world most repressive regimes. Except the U.N. site doesn't make mention of the censorship and brutal internal repression of these regimes--only of their participation, and their money.
As usual, the U.N. for reasons sadly unrelated to actual performance, is styling itself as the champion of the poorest people, in the poorest countries. (This is the same U.N. that still hasn't repaid or even apologized to the people of Iraq for the billions worth of their national assets that were grafted, stolen and wasted under U.N. supervision in the Oil for Food program). In the face of mounting public concern over the Tunis summit, Secretary-General Kofi Annan betook himself recently to the pages of the Washington Post to argue … "I urge all stakeholders to come to Tunis ready to bridge the digital divide," etc., etc.
What Mr. Annan evidently does not care to understand, and after his zillion-year career at the U.N. probably never will, is that for purposes of helping the poor, the problem is not a digital divide. It is not the bytes, gigs, blogs and digital wing-dings that define that terrible line between the haves and the have-nots. These are symptoms of the real difference, which we would do better to call the dictatorial divide.
In free societies, all sorts of good things flourish, including technology and highly productive uses of the Internet. In despotic systems, human potential withers and dies, strangled by censorship, starved by central controls, and rotted by the corruption that inevitably accompanies such arrangements. That poisonous mix is what prevents the spread of prosperity in Africa, and blocks peace in the Middle East, and access to computers, or for that matter, food, in North Korea (which is of course sending a delegate to Tunis).
But never mind the realities, as long as Mr. Annan and his entourage see an opportunity for more U.N. turf, job patronage, global clout and funding (including the prospect of a "ka-ching" for the U.N. cash register every time someone logs on). Leading the charge, with policy documents posted on the U.N. information summit site, are such terrorist-breeding blogger-jailing regimes as those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, and such millennial pioneers of backward motion on free speech as Belarus and Russia. …