If anyone needs another reason why the UN should not be in charge of the internet, they need look no further than the upcoming UNESCO conference on "Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace." The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization conference will discuss "whether universal free expression standards should be applied to the Internet and how free expression can be protected while respecting individual privacy, national laws and cultural differences." The conference is being held in preparation for the second phase of the UN's World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)." The fact that UNESCO is considering whether "universal free expression standards" should be applied to the internet speaks volumes.
UNESCO was the organization that previously championed a New World Information and Communications Order that supported greater state control over the media. Due to the UN organization's budgetary mismanagement and radical political agenda, the United States withdrew from UNESCO in 1984. Although the US has since rejoined the organization, concerns regarding UNESCO's intentions remain. For example, a major human rights group organization boycotted a UNESCO conference last year over concerns that the UN group was censoring their message.
However, the issue for US policy officials is not whether UNESCO is pro or anti-censorship at any given moment, but rather how to prevent the internet from being subject to censorship, irrespective of "cultural differences" or other political concerns.
A July 2003 article in The Miami Herald titled "Cuba, Iran seek global Internet censorship rules," explains why WSIS has the potential to pose a fundamental danger to international electronic freedom of expression. As the article notes, the "key issue at the conference will be whether the international community condemns or endorses the 'fire walls' that many dictatorships are erecting to block access to Internet websites that they consider politically inconvenient… 'Cuba is proposing language that would favor state control of the media,' U.S. assistant secretary of state for international organizations Kim R. Holmes said in an interview. 'There is reason to be concerned.'"
UNESCO is free to hold as broad-ranging a debate as they please on internet content or any other topic. It is the duty of the United States to help ensure that the world's population enjoys a similar freedom.
By Bruce Levinson, SVP, Regulatory Intervention - Center for Regulatory Effectiveness
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Minds + Machines