(Alexandria, VA) - As United Nations (UN) officials meet tomorrow in Tunisia to plot strategies for a new worldwide Internet governance structure, an "Issue Brief" from the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU) warns that such schemes could choke political freedoms and soak taxpayers.
"After so many conspiracy hoaxes over the years, there is now a serious, ominous effort to replace the efficient and adaptable non-profit entity guiding the Internet with a new UN-sponsored agency," said NTU Government Affairs Manager and Issue Brief author Kristina Rasmussen.
Rasmussen's study traces the push for a government-dominated online environment to the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), created by the UN in response to detractors of the current, US-based International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). As the author notes, the advertised reasons for this proposal - increasing access and receiving global input - seem to be masking some less noble motives and outcomes:
- Censorship. Despite having made a declaration of support for freedom of speech, many WGIG members come from nations that severely curtail this right; China, for example, has one of the most restrictive and sophisticated Internet control mechanisms in the world. Just as other UN bodies have been "co-opted" by non-democratic governments, "an 'International Internet Commission' chaired by China might not be far off," Rasmussen observed.
- Taxes. Since the Internet's infancy the UN has crafted detailed proposals to tax online traffic. Rasmussen calculates that one 1999 plan for a "bit tax," adjusted for today's number of Internet users, would raise 1.8 trillion dollars this year - roughly equal to 15 percent of America's Gross Domestic Product. Even less ambitious money-raising models such as the independent, Switzerland-based "Digital Solidarity Fund" could feasibly be transformed into future collectors of compulsory Internet taxes and fees.
- Bureaucratic Corruption. Given recent oil-for-food scandals, UN-style Internet agencies would present the inherent risk of "giving ruling members of regimes in the developing world shiny new computers rather than furnishing the poor with Internet access," Rasmussen said.
Although the US State Department (and more recently federal lawmakers) are moving to oppose a UN Internet takeover, and ICANN officials are advocating privatization, the author contends that vigorous opposition to WGIG's plans from taxpayers around the world is vital.
"Manipulating Internet content through an internationalized, tax-funded structure may be an attractive outcome for politicians seeking to suppress dissent and prop up financially ailing bureaucracies, but not for friends of economic and information freedom," Rasmussen concluded. "The concept of international Internet governance should be rejected, and the proposals of the WGIG report moved to where they belong - the 'trash' bin of every policymaker's computer."
NTU is a non-partisan citizen organization working for lower taxes and smaller government; the group is a founding member of the World Taxpayers Associations (www.worldtaxpayers.org). Note: NTU Issue Brief 157, WGIG - A Byte on Internet Freedom, is available online at www.ntu.org.