Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Don’t Let Bureaucracy Deny Internet Liberty

I applaud Eric Rodawig’s recent column (“Be Sure to Keep the Eurotrash Out of America’s ICANN,” The Hoya, Oct. 28, 2005, A3) on Internet governance. With the World Summit on the Information Society beginning this Wednesday in Tunis, Rodawig’s doubts about proposals to “internationalize” the Internet are not only relevant, but correct.

Rodawig hit upon an important point in the debate: Ceding our current regulatory responsibilities to some new or pre-existing international body (such as the International Telecommunications Union) would create a bureaucratic nightmare and jeopardize the future of the Internet. Certainly, the Internet is dynamic, and whatever regulatory body or bodies oversee it must be capable of the same sort of dynamism to ensure that our networks remain robust and capable of withstanding attacks.

While many commentators tend to overstate or misunderstand ICANN’s role, Rodawig was correct in explaining that one of its principal duties is the allocation of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. With the Internet still growing, we are now facing the very real possibility of running out of addresses. The implementation of IPv6, an upgrade to the 20 year-old system in place now, would add another layer of security and ensure that the finite amount of IP addresses is not exhausted. It is hard enough to make critical upgrades like IPv6 to our infrastructure as it is, but if this role were transferred to an organization founded during the Civil War to regulate the telegraph, they would likely become impossible.

There is, however, another more significant concern, touched on briefly in the column. When you look at the harshest critics of America’s position on Internet governance – Syria, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe and China – you see a disturbing pattern. A recent report released by the Open Net Initiative, a partnership between researchers and Cambridge, Harvard, and the University of Toronto, concluded: “Iran has adopted one of the world’s most substantial Internet censorship regimes. Iran, along with China, is among a small group of states with the most sophisticated state-mandated filtering systems in the world.” Another report by that group stated: “[Saudi Arabia] prevents access to significant amounts of content related to the Bahai faith, non-Sunni Islamic sects, opposition political groups, extremist groups, free Web hosting sites, and non-pornographic sexual content.”

Georgetown students know that there are many countries in this world where freedom of speech does not exist in any substantive way. Even in liberal democracies such as ours, it is a liberty that constantly finds itself threatened. The Internet, however, has served as a medium through which liberties such as free speech have flourished and, in doing so, have managed to permeate the technological bulwarks of even the most repressive regimes.

While no one claims that ICANN invented the Internet – though, arguably, the chairman of its board, Vint Cerf, did – neither should anyone make the equally ignorant claim that our global network is autonomous. Since it did not will itself into being and requires constant administration, its nature is directly attributable to the institutions which helped bring it into being and which perform those critical administrative tasks. Chief among those institutions is ICANN. Hence, though perhaps not designedly so, the flourishing of liberal values on the Internet owes much to ICANN’s laissez-faire approach and to the fact that it is itself part of a liberal regime.

It may seem peculiar to suggest a conservative approach to such a progressive medium, but change does not always foster progress. Under the thin veil of a more progressive and internationalized Internet lie the political machinations of nations that would like nothing better than to choke off the flow of information that we have all come to benefit from. We are constantly being told not to take our liberties for granted. Let’s not take the Internet for granted, either.

Daniel Kahan is a senior in the College.

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