The Internet at Risk
Some 12,000 people convened last week in Tunisia for a United
Nations conference about the Internet. Many delegates want an end to the
U.S. Commerce Department's control over the assignment of Web site
addresses (for example, http://www.washington-%20post.com/ ) and e-mail
accounts (for example, firstname.lastname@example.org). The delegates' argument is that
unilateral U.S. control over these domain names reflects
no more than the historical accident of the Internet's origins. Why
should the United States continue to control the registration of French
and Chinese Internet addresses? It doesn't control the registration of
French and Chinese cars, whatever Henry Ford's historic role in
democratizing travel was. The reformers'
argument is attractive in theory and dangerous in practice. In an ideal
world, unilateralism should be avoided. But in an imperfect world,
unilateral solutions that run efficiently can be better than
multilateral ones that 51... The job of assigning domain names offers huge opportunities for abuse. 52...
controls this function can decide to keep certain types of individuals
or organizations offline (dissidents or opposition political groups, for
example). Or it can allow them on in exchange for large fees. The
striking feature of U.S. oversight of the Internet is that such abuses have not occurred.
It's possible that a multilateral overseer of the Internet
might be just as efficient. But the ponderous International
Telecommunication Union, the U.N. body that would be a leading candidate
to take over the domain registry, has a record of resisting innovation -
including the advent of the Internet. Moreover, a
multilateral domain-registering body would be caught between the
different visions of its members: on the one side, autocratic regimes
such as Saudi Arabia and China that want to restrict access to the
Internet; on the other side, open societies that want low barriers to
entry. These clashes of vision would probably make multilateral
regulation inefficiently political. You may say that
this is a fair price to pay to uphold the principle of sovereignty. If a
country wants to keep certain users from registering domain names (Nazi
groups, child pornographers, criminals), then perhaps it has a right to
do so. But the clinching argument is that countries can exercise that
sovereignty to a reasonable degree without controlling domain names.
They can order Internet users in their territory to take offensive
material down. They can order their banks or credit card companies to
refuse to process payments to unsavory Web sites based abroad. Indeed,
governments' ample ability to regulate the Internet has already been
demonstrated by some of the countries pushing for reform, such as
authoritarian China. The sovereign nations of the world have no need to
wrest control of the Internet from the United States, because they
already have it.(Adapted from Washington Post, November 21, 2005; A14)In the third paragraph, such abuses have not occurred means that
a) any organization that wants to register a domain name can do so.
b) the cost of registering a web address has increased dramatically.
c) dissident groups are not allowed to register Web sites.
d) pornography Web sites are only granted registration in exchange for large fees.
e) government opposition parties are refused domain names.