Fox News has a new reason to attack the United Nations: the U.N., under the leadership of Russia, China, and Iran, is dangerously close to taking over control of the Internet, stifling free speech around the world. Fortunately for Internet users, this is not actually the case.
Fox’s Megyn Kelly interviewed The Lawfare Project’s director, Brooke Goldstein, on the grave threat that the United Nations poses to the freedom of the Internet:
KELLY: [Countries like China and Russia] already crack down, they censor the Internet already to some extent in their respective countries. So how much more control do they want?
GOLDSTEIN: Well, they want legitimacy and they want coordinated control. What this is going to result in, people are predicting at the very worst, is a fractured internet. It is an Internet that changes depending on whose borders you’re in. What it’s also going to result in are high-levels of taxes for internet providers. So U.S-based companies like Google or Yahoo who want to provide their services to Russia, to China, are more taxed. And that’s going to be an incentive not to provide it. It will also provide a highly coordinated censorship, something that we’ve seen before, and again it will be legitimized by the United Nations.
Watch the full interview here:
Fox is correct in noting that next month will be the start of the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai, hosted by the International Telecommunications Union, the oldest part of the U.N. system. They are also correct that states such as Russia and India are in fact in favor of the United Nations having more direct control over the governance of the Internet. That’s about where the accuracy ends.
As Kelly reluctantly admit during the segment, the United States is opposed to this proposal. That didn’t stop her from managing to critique the Obama administration for not leading the opposition towards the measure.
Despite Fox’s fretting, the real purpose of the conference is far more mundane than they let on. According to the Better World Campaign, a part of the United Nations Foundation, the conference is based primarily around such technical issues as “fair mobile roaming charges; how to prevent taxation on mobile users from two different countries when receiving an international call; how to prevent spam; and basic cyber-security.” The majority of time and effort will go into updating the International Telecoms Regulations, a process that requires consensus.
The fact is that Russia and other states have been trying for a decade to move control of the Internet from non-profits to intergovernmental organizations where they would have more control; they have failed to do so each time. What’s more, the stance of these states runs against adopted U.N. policy, with the U.N. Human Rights Council having declared free and open internet access a human right earlier this year. In addition, preparatory documents that leaked back in June showed no sign of anything on the agenda that would indicate that a takeover was even close to being at hand.