Doing wrong by the Internet, for all the wrong reasons

In response to Relinquishing Control of the Internet Is Obama’s Way Of Taking America Down a Peg:

I’m sure a good deal of the reflexive acceptance for ICANN handover from certain quarters will come from the conviction that anything “global” or “international” must, by definition, be morally superior to an exclusively American institution.  Barack Obama is hardly the only person who holds the ideology D’Souza describes.  In its softer incarnation, it amounts to a warm and fuzzy feeling for global institutions, the United Nations, etc.  

I don’t understand how any rational person could retain those warm fuzzies after looking at what the United Nations actually does, as opposed to what it’s supposed to be.  The bit of control we’re talking about surrendering is not absolute, but it’s also not insignificant, and there most certainly are a lot of things that could go wrong.

Not everyone connected to the Obama Administration is completely on board with the idea.  FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, for example, sounded a cautionary note about trying to fix a system that isn’t broken, and said “those advocating change must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that their proposals would not increase the influence of repressive foreign governments over the Internet,” or else he’s ready to “strongly oppose” the handover.

The same Fox News article linked above has support for your “Snowden is a pretext” hypothesis from Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, who I’d say is one of the stronger critics of the ICANN handover: “While the NSA revelations have rightly angered many people around the world, they have nothing to do with Internet governance.  The U.S. Department of Commerce has not once abused its oversight of ICANN to aid the intelligence community.  And if the Obama Administration gives away its oversight of the Internet, it will be gone forever.”

So let me combine those observations from Pai and Castro to bluntly state what’s bugging me the most about the loss of American oversight: the whole rest of the world is more “repressive” than America, and all of these promises we keep hearing about how Internet domain control won’t fall into the hands of some tyrant-influenced U.N. boondoggle aren’t going to count for squat once we’ve given away leverage we can never get back.

Even the more enlightened Western nations still tend to have speech codes that would not survive contact with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Many of these speech codes are justified on the basis of avoiding offense to certain favored groups – particularly those which expend a great deal of their energy searching for grievances and becoming very insistent on the use of either government power, or mob action, to address them.  I’m sure an example of such a group will easily spring to the reader’s mind.

I have absolutely no difficulty envisioning the rise of a new Internet regime that is considerably less friendly to freedom of expression than American standards (which, let us be honest, have themselves slipped quite a bit in recent years.)  In fact, I’ll put down my marker right now and call it inevitable.  And even if things are originally handled well enough to satisfy moderate criticism, what’s going to stop them from getting a lot worse later on, once American principles no longer have any more influence than Chinese, Russian, Iranian, or even Canadian principles?  With all due respect to our lovable northern neighbors, they just don’t think about freedom of expression the same way we do. 

Everyone is talking about how the Internet has evolved into something that belongs to the entire world.  It’s the evolution of the rest of the world that concerns me.  And if that sounds like American chauvinism, let me hasten to add that I’m plenty worried about the evolution of American attitudes toward free expression as well.