Russia Goes for Gold in Internet Regulation
Vladimir Putin with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. Photo Credit: www.kremlin.ru
by Gigi Alford
Freedom House, Internet Freedom Senior Program Officer
Don't look now, Silicon Valley, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has set his sights on new territory.
This week [March 3-5], the world's technorati will gather in San Francisco at RightsCon, the annual conference focused on the intersection of human rights and technology. Much of the attention will be on reverberations from Edward Snowden's revelations, and understandably so. But participants should not lose focus on a larger threat -- one that could kill internet freedom faster than you can say NSA -- if Russia and its allies succeed in their plan to replace the open internet with state-controlled intranets.
RightsCon participants, then, should take note of another world event Putin wants to host in Sochi. The proposed second World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in 2015 would grapple with some of the most complex issues related to the internet, including how it operates, the structure of its virtual economy and who manages its content.
Over the coming year, the United Nations will sponsor more than a half dozen meetings to prepare for the long-term WSIS agenda. If advocates of human rights and democracy online fail to pay close attention, Russia and other internet-regulation supporters such as China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia will use the meetings to transfer control of the internet from apolitical technical agencies to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a Geneva-based UN body. The ITU has served an important, useful function in regulating telegraph, radio, TV, satellites, and other communication technologies. But it is the wrong body to govern the internet.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.