Senator: Keep U.N. away from the Internet

The United Nations has no place controlling the Internet, says a Senate resolution introduced before a summit next month.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read
A new resolution introduced in the U.S. Senate offers political backing to the Bush administration by slamming a United Nations effort to exert more influence over the Internet.

Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota, said his nonbinding resolution would protect the Internet from a takeover by the United Nations that's scheduled to be discussed at a summit in Tunisia next month.

"The Internet is likely to face a grave threat" at the summit, Coleman said in a statement on Monday. "If we fail to respond appropriately, we risk the freedom and enterprise fostered by this informational marvel and end up sacrificing access to information, privacy and protection of intellectual property we have all depended on."

If ratified, Coleman's resolution would assure the Bush administration and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) of political support on Capitol Hill during the negotiations at the World Summit on the Information Society. Similar support has already come from both senior Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

At the heart of this international political spat is the unique influence that the U.S. federal government enjoys over Internet addresses and the master database of top-level domain names--a legacy of the Internet's origins years ago. The Bush administration recently raised objections to the proposed addition of .xxx as a red-light district for pornographers, for instance, a veto power that no other government is able to wield.

During a series of meetings organized by the United Nations, ministers from dozens of other countries have raised objections and demanded more influence. Suggestions that have been made include new mandates for "consumer protection," the power to levy taxes on domain names to pay for "universal access," and folding ICANN into the International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. agency. As far back as 1999, U.N. agencies have mulled imposing taxes on Internet e-mail.

Coleman's resolution endorses the principles--effectively maintaining the status quo--that the Bush administration announced in June. But he ventured even further by warning that if governance functions were handed to bureaucrats from oppressive nations, the Internet would become "an instrument of censorship and political suppression." Business groups have raised similar objections, warning of censorship from nations such as China, Iran and Syria.

In December 2004, Coleman called for the resignation of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, saying that his subcommittee's investigations had unearthed evidence of far-ranging fraud inside the sprawling bureaucracy. A former chief prosecutor in Minnesota, Coleman is chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which has been investigating the oil-for-food scandal.