By technology editor Ian Bush
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Next week brings a battle for control of the Internet.
Some countries, like China, Russia, and Iran, are pushing for the United Nations to give them more power over web surfing — control that opponents fear will lead to censorship and greater surveillance.
The International Telecommunications Union governs things like overseas phone calls. But up for discussion when the UN agency meets next week in Dubai is a plan to change the way the web works.
“From the standpoint of an open Internet that’s growing, it would be the end of the game,” says Internet industry analyst Larry Downes of the proposals from countries including African and Arab states.
“They don’t like what it makes possible, and they don’t like the way in which it changes their societies and their cultures,” he tells KYW Newsradio, “and they will continue to use the UN and any other legal means they can to close things up.”
In the meantime, he says, “they’ll continue to use technical means to block traffic, to shut down access, and to surveil content that’s going across their borders.”
Backed by bipartisan support from Congress, the US delegation — which includes members from Google and other high-tech giants — is ready to push back against the power grab.
“They’ll be lobbying very hard to make the case to the other 192 countries participating that it’s in everyone’s best interest — and I think one can say that particularly for the developing world — to leave the governance model alone because it’s working,” Downes says. “And by all means, if we’re going to make any changes to it, the last thing we want to do is turn it over to the UN.”
Even with a win in this battle, Downes says, the US and other nations and entities in opposition will find themselves facing a war.
“We need to remain vigilant if we want to make sure the Internet remains the engine of free speech and economic gain that we’ve all come to see it as,” he says.