Free the Internet

The international community must commit itself to internet freedom

Over the past two weeks, the World Conference on International Telecommunications has met with the stated purpose of reviewing the operation and efficiency of telecommunications around the world. Although the intention of the conference was to discuss global telecommunication standards, several countries have attempted to shift the focus of this meeting to issues of internet regulation. Last year, a team of countries led by China and Russia submitted a proposal requesting the establishment of an international security code to monitor internet behavior. Recently, Russia reemphasized its desire for international control of the internet by requesting that the conference examine the issue of internet oversight. While the United States staunchly opposed any discussion of the internet at this communications conference, this disagreement raised the question of both domestic and international internet regulations.

Despite the calls for tighter restrictions from autocratically inclined regimes like China and Russia, there is no cause for global regulation of the internet. Rather, it is high time for an international commitment to freedom on the Internet.

Since its establishment as a tool for quick, easy access to information, the internet has been subject to international cries for regulation. In a prior United Nations telecommunications conference, Iran and Cuba demanded reforms to cut down freedoms and increase management of the internet. While a few countries continue to call for increased regulation of this vast network of free thought and information, the international community should not acquiesce to the demands of a vocal minority. Rather than increase information regulations, the global community should not only remain committed to a free and open internet, but also help develop the framework for greater freedom of information.

Although many countries enjoy substantial freedom on the internet, some states go to extensive efforts to inhibit access to information. In China, the government routinely checks incoming web traffic and prevents any anti-government sentiments from being broadcast online, blocking Facebook, Twitter, and Google in an attempt to prevent the spread of information. Citizens of Iran face similar restrictions, as the population is forced to use a purely domestic internet system that prohibits the use of Google. Rather than adopt globalized standards of internet regulation, the international community should attempt to facilitate the spread of information to states such as China and Iran. By preventing the spread of information in these states, governments not only deprive their citizens of information, but they also inhibit the ability of journalists to uncover and distribute information.

When the state censors all incoming and outgoing information, it becomes nearly impossible for the public to accurately gauge their relative quality of life, restriction on freedoms, or potential for improvement. Indeed, preventing the flow of this information appears to be the reason why autocratic regimes desire to control the internet. The international community must take measures not to establish a global framework of internet regulation, opting instead for a worldwide initiative for internet freedom.

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