U.N. group seeks control of Internet
Source: THE WASHINGTON TIMES
By John Zarocostas
Date: November 18, 2003
GENEVA — Governments spearheaded by China, Brazil, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia are trying to place the Internet under the control of the United Nations or its member governments, a move that the United States and other developed countries are determined to resist.
The issue has cropped up in preparatory talks for a world summit on the information society to be held from Dec. 10 to 12 in Geneva, with the stated goal of advancing the management and worldwide use of the Internet, especially in poorer nations.
Delegates from rich and developing nations remained divided on the matter at the end of the latest round of talks on Friday, senior diplomats said.
"We will continue to fight hard to ensure that Internet governance remains a balanced enterprise among all stakeholders and continues to be private-sector-led," said the chief of the U.S. delegation, Ambassador David A. Gross.
Pierre Gagne, executive director of the world summit, earlier identified control of the Internet as one of two key issues in the talks, adding that control and financial issues "will probably be the last issues to be resolved" at the summit.
Many developing countries argue that governments need to play a greater role in managing and setting policy for the Internet, while the United States, the European Union and Japan, among others, say government interference could stifle the development of the dynamic medium.
The Internet, at present, is loosely managed by a private organization in California named the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which coordinates such matters as Internet servers and domain names.
Countries with developing and emerging economies would like to hand over that authority to a U.N. agency, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
The Internet medium is too important to be left in the hands of one major power, some argue, and others say problems such as cybercrime and protection of intellectual property rights require greater government involvement.
Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of the ITU, which will host the December summit, said in an interview that Brazil is "a very strong advocate" of his agency taking over the Internet.
China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Senegal and many other African countries were also "keen" for the United Nations to have a role, he said.
But, he said, the differences of opinion were "too big" to be settled before the delegates meet in Geneva next month. Other diplomats said there might be no decision even then.
The summit also will deal with questions such as how to block the spread of viruses, prevent unwanted "spam" and prevent the use of the medium for criminal purposes such as identity theft, Western officials said.
Russia has proposed that the final declaration address Internet security in both "civil and security fields," but many countries fear that any reference to military security could limit freedom of expression, Mr. Utsumi said.
There also is pressure for a strong statement in support of free expression on the Internet but sources said that is being resisted by China and other countries that want to maintain strong oversight of the medium.
Nitin Desai, special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said the core purpose of the summit is to establish a common vision for the information society, to utilize new technologies to overcome poverty and to find ways to make Internet access affordable to all.
The president of Senegal has proposed the creation of a "global digital solidarity fund" to help poor countries establish Internet access. The ITU estimates that fewer than 1 percent of low-income country residents are Internet subscribers.
The United States and other industrialized countries say the existing mechanisms are sufficient and argue that funding a new international bureaucracy would not be an effective way to spread information technology.
Poor countries would be better served by establishing an environment in which the private sector would develop the needed infrastructure, the industrialized countries say.
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