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UN takeover of the internet: good guys and bad guys

A strong piece in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend on American opposition to a proposal for a United Nations body, the ITU, to take control of the basic architecture of the internet:

…this column is happy to report on a speech by Andrew McLaughlin, a former deputy chief technology officer in the Obama administration who also worked at Google. He urged President Obama to “kneecap” the ITU, abolishing it rather than let it put the open Internet at risk.

“What is so bad about the ITU?” Mr. McLaughlin asked in a speech to the New America Foundation in Washington on Nov. 29. “It’s just simple things like the nature, structure, culture, values and processes of the ITU. They are all inimical to a free and open Internet, and they are all inconsistent with the nature of the technical infrastructure that now characterizes our communications networks.”

Australians will be pleased to learn that we are the good guys on this one as well: Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is opposed to the proposed changes. Here’s what I wrote about the ITU plan in October, and Simon Breheny’s recent radio interview on the subject.

But there’s a bit of hypocrisy going on here too. The ITU is hardly the only threat to internet freedoms. We’ve chronicled the danger of the Gillard government’s data retention scheme – a scheme which Conroy supports, apparently by nothing more than instinct – and of course the government recently abandoned changed its internet filter plan.

Milton Mueller points out that Australia is culpable in politicising internet governance in another way as well: we launch more objections to new top-level domains than any other country in the world. Here’s our latest effort – trying to stop Amazon.com from registering .book.

The UN should be kept away from the internet. But neither should we pretend that the UN is the only threat to online liberty.

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