Friday, September 30, 2005

Net wars

Give them a bone and they'll fight over it. This one is the internet, according to International Herald Tribune, with the EU bouncing the United States during negotiations in Geneva on how the system should be run.

Described as one of their sharpest public disagreements in months, this came after EU negotiators proposed stripping the Americans of what is claimed to be their effective control of the Internet.

Predictably, the EU is backing the rest of the world in wanting the creation of a new international body to govern the Internet – yet another bunch of tranzies – a demand that caught the Americans off balance and, according to the IHT, "left them largely isolated at talks designed to come up with a new way of regulating the digital traffic of the 21st century."

But for all that, the internet is not exactly controlled by the US government but by a private company, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, a nonprofit organisation based in Marina del Rey, California, under the supervision of the US Department of commerce.

David Gross, the State Department official in charge of America's international communications policy, immediately cried “foul”. "The EU's proposal seems to represent an historic shift in the regulatory approach to the Internet from one that is based on private sector leadership to a government, top-down control of the Internet," he said.

Delegates have been meeting in Geneva for the past two weeks at the so-called World Summit on the Information Society, organised by the UN. They were scheduled to conclude in November at a meeting in Tunisia but, with the EU's latest demand, they are now deadlocked.

Needless to say, there is a strong political element here, with the EU and developing nations saying they wanted to send a signal to America that it could not run things alone. The Brazilian delegation to the talks stated, "On Internet governance, three words tend to come to mind: lack of legitimacy. In our digital world, only one nation decides for all of us," while Iran wants a UN body to govern the Internet.

Gross has responded@ "No intergovernmental body should control the Internet... whether it's the UN or any other." US officials argue that a system like the one proposed by the EU would lead to unwanted bureaucratisation, claiming that fears of US government influence on the Internet were overstated.

Further talks will now be needed before the Tunisia meeting on 16-18 November but, in the meantime, no doubt, the delegates will be exchanging views… by e-mail.

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