Should the Internet, as we know it, have private property status under the authority of the governments of free nations? Or should totalitarian governments with no freedom of speech or press — China, Iran, Russia — enjoy equal control over the Internet?
To most of us, the answer probably seems obvious. But not to our current administration, including our current President.
The following appeared in the 4/13/14 edition of the Wall Street Journal online (written by L. Gordon Crovitz):
Less than a month after announcing its plan to abandon U.S. protection of the open Internet in 2015, the White House has stepped back from the abyss. Following objections by Bill Clinton, a warning letter from 35 Republican senators, and critical congressional hearings, the administration now says the change won’t happen for years, if ever.
“We can extend the contract for up to four years,” Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling told Congress last week, referring to the agreement under which the U.S. retains ultimate control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as Icann. If the administration makes good on that reassurance, it would punt the decision to 2019 and the next president.
If 35 Republican senators and even former President Bill Clinton understand this issue, then why didn’t President Obama and his own administration, at least initially?
Mr. Strickling originally linked the end of U.S. control to the September 2015 expiration date of the current Icann agreement. He backtracked at a Hudson Institute conference last week: “We did not intend that to be a deadline after which ‘bad things’ would happen. There has been some misapprehension that we were trying to impose a deadline on this process. We weren’t.”
Fadi Chehade, Icann’s CEO, agreed. “There is no deadline,” he said. “The U.S. has many years on the contract.” In an interview, Mr. Chehade assured me that he understands why supporters of the open Internet want the U.S. to retain its oversight role, which keeps countries like Russia and China from meddling. “I’m worried, too,” he said. “There’s no question that governments like power and certain governments will always try to take control of the Internet, so we will have to be careful.”
There actually is no one entity coercively “running the Internet;” nor should there be. This is the kind of improper, vague generalization that gets free countries into trouble. It happened with health care. “There should be one central entity running health care. It should be the federal government.” That premise ruled the day, and now we’ve got it.
It’s the same sort of reasoning applied here to the Internet, by the Obama Administration, at least at first, before their backtrack.
When you choose to purchase goods or services on the Internet — let’s say at Netflix.com, ebay.com or Amazon.com — it’s not government permission allowing you to do so. It’s ultimately at the behest of a free marketplace. Enough people wish to buy these services or goods that it’s feasible for these large companies — and many smaller ones — to operate at a profit.
Since the Internet is also a context for expression of ideas, many people operate websites for no (fiscal) profit at all, but rather for intellectual profit (for better or worse).
The only “system” at work here is freedom, based upon individual liberty and private property.
Consider this point in the WSJ article:
The Commerce Department tasked Icann to come up with a plan to invite authoritarian governments to participate while still keeping the Internet open. This is likely impossible—and wholly unnecessary. Nongovernmental “multi-stakeholders,” such as engineers, networking companies and technology associations, now run the Internet smoothly. They are free to do so because the U.S. retains ultimate control over Internet domains, blocking authoritarian regimes from censoring or otherwise limiting the Internet outside their own countries.
Defending freedom on the Internet cannot be done by claiming, “Private entities do a fine job running the Internet.” By conceding the point that anyone can or should “run” the Internet, right there you’re paving the way for improper government control which in turn paves the way, ultimately, for complete and total control of the Internet by the government.
The deeper issue here is that the good or the decent have nothing to gain from the evil or corrupt. A free country’s government has nothing to gain from compromising or granting “equal voice” to the totalitarian regimes who openly practice censorship, on the Internet and elsewhere.
The Obama administration doesn’t appear to grasp the fact that totalitarian regimes are different from free societies. According to that mindset, why shouldn’t a country that jails and even kills citizens for offending the government have an equal say in “control of the Internet” as a country who leaves freedom of thought and speech mostly intact?
This is what happens when you put into the Presidency a man who really isn’t all that excited about individual rights and freedom, and who probably doesn’t understand them. Obama’s lackluster regard for these things was — in this case — even too much for Bill Clinton, a member of his own party who purportedly agrees with him on everything else.
All governments are not created equal; nor are all governments equal in moral or even legal legitimacy. Try living for five minutes in a country with censorship if you do not believe me.
Governments, as such, do not have “rights.” They derive their powers from the consent of the governed and, more fundamentally, from the inherent right of individuals to be left free from force, because of their requirements to act and operate as rational, thinking and sovereign human beings. It’s the rights and nature of the individual that give any government legitimacy, and only some governments legitimacy — not the other way around.
Totalitarian governments such as China, Iran and Russia enjoy no moral right to control anyone, including their own citizens. (If their own citizens permit it, or even want it, then that’s their own psychopathology.)
The fact that our own government, in the United States, could allow for even a moment’s evasion of this fact is distressing and disturbing in the extreme.
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