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Internet Governance: Everyone Wants of a Piece of this Pie in the Sky

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If we had not treated Frankenstein as a piece of science fiction, we may have been living in a more safe and secure world. We have spawned far too many Aladdins for our own good. And the genies that have come out of the lamps cannot be put back by trick or magic or even their masters.

We split the atom to harness its boundless energy for peaceful use. We ended up bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Or greatest worry now is the havoc a rogue state can cause across the globe in a moment of suicidal madness. The jury is still out on the effects of genetically modified foods on human health and our general environment. Whatever the verdict, GM foods cannot now be wished away.

The mother of all genies was christened the World Wide Web by its founder. But no one is complaining, much less horrified. The reason why there is only a sketchy debate on the potential of the Internet as a tool of mass destruction is simple. This genie seems to be a good servant of all those who care to befriend it.

The Internet doesn't ask question whether you want to use its services for good or for evil. It allows Mark Zuckerberg to become a billionaire at an age when most kids his age struggle to keep their first job. It colludes with Kim Dotcom to swindle people through manipulating the Internet and to hack into high risk accounts. It allows Julian Assange to become a hero to those who enjoy reading classified information. It has rendered redundant the oath of secrecy which presidents, prime ministers and their council of ministers routinely take.

Yes, the Internet has given us freedoms beyond imagination. In the process we have forgotten the distinction and difference between freedom and licence. It has obliterated the difference between anarchy and democracy. It has blurred the difference between private and public issues.

A war of sorts has now broken out over who should have the right to control this genie or monster. The United Nations is being egged on by some nations to govern the Internet.

According to cnet.com Russia wants the UN "to take over key aspects of Internet governance, including addressing and naming, according to documents leaked...from an upcoming treaty conference.

The Russian proposal was submitted ahead of World Conference on International Communications in Dubai next month. The conference will consider revisions to the International Telecommunications Regulations, a treaty overseen by the UN's International Telecommunications Union. The treaty has not been revised since 1988, before the emergence of the commercial Internet.

India too backed the Russian initiative. However, the howl of protest from civil society and media made the government chicken out.

Academics, media and industry associations backed the civil society's objections to India's position on Internet governance. At the heart of the controversy was the fear of political abuse of a proposal sponsored by the UN. Under this proposal a 50-member body would oversee the governance of the Internet.

According to uncut.indexcensorship.org, "Civil society expressed fear that in the 50-member UN body, many may seek to control the internet for their own political ends. It would thus restrict the very free and dynamic nature of the Internet. The proposal "envisaged 50 member States chosen on the basis of equitable geographic representation" that would meet annually in Geneva as the UN Committee for Internet-Related Policies (UN-CIRP).

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Indian parliamentarian and critic of the proposal was quoted as having said: "CIRP seems like a solution in search of a problem". At present, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a non-profit with ties to the US State Department, serves as the platform for internet governance, using an organizational structure that allows input from the wider internet community and not just governments of the world.

It appears that both civil society and the media are being manipulated by commercial interests to oppose official intervention in managing the Internet. Google is making the loudest noise against UN control for obvious reasons.

In early November the UN sponsored a conference, a rather quiet affair, in Azerbaijan to determine the future of the Internet. It was hosted by the Azerbaijan government. It was billed as the 7th Annual Meeting of Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to discuss "Internet Governance for Sustainable Human, Economic, and Social Development."

According to venturebeat.com although IGF is meant to be a "multi-stakeholder forum for policy dialogue on issues of internet governance," one group was notably absent -- the technology entrepreneurs creating and innovating the Internet's future.

The reason why companies like Microsoft and Paypal did not stay away is not difficult to understand. These "tech giants" already walk the corridors of power and set global agendas. Of course, they did not represent, nor sought to protect, the interests of small tech start-ups.

Critics blamed the organizers for the absence of some key stakeholders. While inviting the "technical community" as well as the "private sector", it did not offer a clear definition of who would qualify to represent the "technical community". They also did not offer a distinction between large companies and small.

However after having presented the views of different sections on the issue we would like to ask: Is it possible to control the Internet? In the real world nations are struggling to wage a collective and effective fight against terrorism and other domestic and global evils. The threat to global peace from cyber-terror has merely given world leaders one more issue to fret over. The UN, which is being asked to oversee the functioning of the Internet, has proved to be an ineffective body in establishing global peace or waging a collective and effective war against terror. It has notional control over the affairs of the real world, yet it is being urged to oversee the goings-on in the virtual domain.