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Science and Technology

December 15, 2012

U.N. couldn't control the Internet even if it wanted to

(Continued)

Several protests have arisen to the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai. One of the most articulate opposing voices is that of Vint Cerf of Google, an Internet pioneer. His critique has two parts: first, that voices other than those of nation-states need to be heard; second, that it is the very lack of governmental controls and sheer openness of the Internet that creates value and drives the information age forward.

Protest has also taken the form of insurgency. It seems that the hacktivist organization Anonymous may be involved in disruptive cyber acts that have slowed, and at one point stopped, the operations of the conference's official website. This group and many people of like mind around the world see much to worry about when it comes to closed-door meetings of government representatives.

There is also deep irony in the desire of nations to seek more control over cyberspace. Dictators have abused their existing abilities to restrict access in efforts to chill dissent. Hosni Mubarak shut down the Internet in just such an attempt. But he failed, because the Egyptian masses had been using cyberspace to share their anger and gather their courage for many months before the regime struck at the Net. Indeed, the shutdown was the signal to the people that it was time to go to Tahrir Square. Bashar al-Assad seems to have tried something similar over a week ago, when the Net went down briefly in Syria. He too will fail.

In the end, U.N. efforts to control cyberspace, aided and abetted by all too many nations, will fail as well. The virtual world is a vast wilderness - artificial, but beautiful and complex, and growing in size and direction in ways that almost surely lie beyond the ability of governments to control. The sooner this is realized, the better. It will save the world from a costly global struggle between balky nations and nimble insurgent networks.

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