Home/Alan Jacobs/The Future of the Internet, Episode 6,789

The Future of the Internet, Episode 6,789

I have a feeling that this kind of thing is going to cause more and more troubles in the coming years:

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai, where the ITU met to renegotiate the ITR, ended in failure in the early hours of November 14th. After a majority of countries approved the new treaty, Terry Kramer, the head of the American delegation, announced that his country is “not able to sign the document in its current form.” Shortly thereafter, at least a dozen countries—including Britain, Sweden and Egypt—signalled that they would not support the new treaty either.

The main issue was to what extent the internet should feature in the treaty. America and its allies wanted to keep it from being so much as mentioned—mainly out of fear that any reference to it whatsoever would embolden governments to censor the internet and meddle with its infrastructure. For some time a compromise among the more the 600 delegates, who were confined to an oppressive convention hall, seemed possible: the binding ITR would indeed hardly make any mention of the internet, but China, Russia and many Arab countries would get a non-binding resolution on the internet (with the awkward title “To foster an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet”).

Yet this package did not fly — because for America both the ITR and the resolution crossed several red lines.

Babbage, the Economist columnist writing this story, readily admits that America’s motives in this are not pure; but whether they’re pure or not, the American position, I think, simply acknowledges that the power and freedom of the Internet cannot easily be restricted, and very well may not be controllable at all.

Repressive governments around the world are determined to find ways to shove the electronic genie back into its lamp, but it just keeps seeping out through various cracks and minute holes — and those cracks and holes are going to get bigger, not smaller. China may be able to keep its Great Firewall working to some degree for a few years to come, and beleaguered despotisms like Syria may try shutting down the whole country’s internet from time to time, but any country that wants to participate in the world’s economy — and that’s all of them — will have to use the world’s internet.

And they will. As Evgeny Morozov’s ongoing work suggests, sooner or later all the would-be tyrants of the world will realize what many already know: a free internet is one they can exploit as well as, or better than, those who would displace them.

about the author

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.

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