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Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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A threat to the Internet

Global restrictions on Internet activity are being proposed by the United Nations.

Remember SOPA? The Stop Online Piracy Act aimed to limit copyright infringement of intellectual property that would have cut access to websites that are associated with pirated content.

Since it was proposed, SOPA was starkly contended by both individuals and websites alike. National attention to the act was most noticeably seen through the day-long blackout of many popular websites like Wikipedia, Reddit and Craigslist on Jan. 18 of the past year. In fact, SOPA drew such a huge backlash that it and its sister bill, the Protect IP Act, were both postponed indefinitely. The U.S Internet community heaved a collective sigh.

Imagine your indignation at last year’s SOPA. Now, imagine it growing much

Why? There’s a new threat to the freedom of Internet content, and it’s coming from countries lobbying under the United Nations.

Next week, a 12-day conference will be held in Dubai by the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union.  Nations will discuss the current state of international internet communications and revisions to the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty.

This will be the first time nations will discuss the treaty since 1988, before the arrival of commercial and recreational Internet.

Does anyone control the Internet right now? Major facilitators of Internet communications belong to the Internet Society, a nonprofit organization seeking to promote international understanding and usage of Internet standards, education and public policy. The Internet Society is international, with bases in the U.S. and Switzerland.

There are a few reasons why you should feel uneasy about this conference, and it’s not the simple question of who controls the Web. Instead, fear those countries looking out for their own self-interest. These countries include Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China. All are pushing for the authority to screen and regulate Internet activity and traffic. This censorship would be done through the centralized governance of the U.N.

That in itself is enough to make any appreciator of the free-flow information style of the Internet ball his fists and grit his teeth. Not only is this a poorly disguised attempt to have international power over perhaps the most important communications system today, it would also disrupt the self-adjusted Internet system we have today. Multiple components of the Internet Society have  worked for years to interconnect the 40,000 plus international networks among 425,000 routes to ensure the effectiveness of global communication. Creating some consolidated government to take over these various tasks would be unnecessary, unbearably time-consuming and ludicrous.

What may be even scarier is the lack of coverage on these propositions. If passed, these measures would have an enormous effect on how information could be distributed or shared. Proposed regulations should now be discussed and debated by those who consider themselves Internet users. Instead, the ITU has held pre-conferences, outlining plans behind closed doors. Most of the information on this has been leaked instead of openly suggested.

Of course, there are already major contenders of the conference. The European Union and various U.S. officials have voiced their fears of a centrally controlled Internet. Tech giant Google set up the Take Action campaign, urging people to pledge for a free and open Internet.

Governments should not have control over the Internet, and when we allow them to, we allow our ideas and creations to be limited.

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