U.N. interference threatens web freedom

Imagine yourself sitting in a class that isn’t particularly exciting. Chances are you’re using social media or on reddit.com, and doing other fun unproductive things to pass the time. Now imagine that the professor of that class has just assigned a research assignment that requires an essay with a bibliography. The Internet saves the day again by supplying you with sources; heck, you’ll probably use the Internet because you do not know how to format citations. Well, the Internet as we know it is being threatened.

This week, a United Nations organization called the International Telegraph Union is meeting in Dubai to discuss Internet censorship. They plan to repurpose a treaty written in 1988 to regulate news, taxes, social media and more. The movement’s biggest supporters are China, Russia, as well as a slew of African and Middle Eastern nations.

These nations claim that the Internet "undermines other countries' political, economic, and social stability.” In other words, these leaders do not support freedom of speech.

If there is any undermining happening, it is within the ITU of the Internet. ITU members are completely disregarding the complexity of the thousands and thousands of networks that connect billions of people every day. Gordon Crovitz of The Wall Street Journal put it best, saying, “Having the Internet rewired by bureaucrats would be like handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla.”

Aside from the ITU’s potential human rights violations, America may be the nation most affected by its actions. Google, Facebook and Twitter are all American-based social media companies with thousands of employees that exist to connect people and spread stories. This new proposal would tax companies for every international viewer they receive in their networks, which could present economic issues. To put this in perspective, of Facebook’s 1 billion users, 818 million come from Europe, Asia and elsewhere. It should also be noted that this statistic groups the U.S. and Canada together (189 million users).

Google has been a huge advocate of an open Internet and is doing everything it can to prevent a bill like this from passing. They have asked users to sign their petition – which I suggest you do at www.Google.com/TakeAction – to show support for an open Internet, or at the very least, for companies like Google and Facebook to be included in discussions about the future of the Internet.

The recent crisis in Syria highlights the need for a free Internet. Allegedly, the government cut off Internet and phone lines to the city, making it very hard for outside sources to understand what was going on. Military officials were forced to use radio transmitters, which can be tapped quite easily. If said accusations are true, they feed directly into what Google and others opposing the ITU say. As a nation that has experienced much bloodshed in the past year, having no access to communication is both unfair and unsafe for citizens seeking refuge.

It would be gravely dangerous to allow governments to regulate Internet speech. The media could be influenced by government entities. It would also be bad for the economy because the Internet makes and sustains many jobs. The dangers of an Internet regulated by the government cannot possibly be listed succinctly. This is my case for keeping an open, unregulated Internet.