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Monday, November 12, 2007

US loosing control over the Internet?

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - When hundreds of technology experts from around the world gather here this week to hammer out the future of the Internet, the hottest issue won't be spam, phishing or any of the other phenomena that bedevil users everywhere.

Instead, ending U.S. control over what's become a global network will be at the top of the agenda for many of the more than 2,000 participants expected at the United Nations Internet Governance Forum, which begins Monday.

With the Internet now dominating nearly aspect of modern life, continued U.S. control of the medium has become a sensitive topic worldwide. In nations that try to control what people can see and hear, the Internet often is the only source of uncensored news and opinion.

U.S. officials say that keeping Internet functions under their control has protected that free flow of information and kept the Internet growing reliably.

Yet to many foreign government officials and technology gurus, the United States has too much control over a tool that's used by more than 1.4 billion people worldwide. Brazil, China and other countries have proposed transferring oversight to an international body.

"The Internet has become an everyday instrument of particular importance for the entire world, yet it's still under the control of one country," said Rogerio Santanna, Brazil's secretary of logistics and information technology. "No one country should be able to make decisions that will affect Internet users everywhere."

Others worry, however, that transferring the administration of the Internet to the United Nations or another international body would make it vulnerable to censorship, especially by powerful countries such as China.

The most dramatic example of Internet censorship happened recently in Myanmar, when the ruling military junta cut Internet connections to stop dissident blogs and other sites that had distributed information about government repression in the wake of September's crushed pro- democracy protests.

China is routinely criticized for its Internet censorship policies and its use of information gleaned from Internet providers to crack down on dissidents.

Even Brazil has inspired Internet privacy debates by demanding that U.S. technology giant Google hand over information about users who're suspected of posting child pornography and other offensive material on its social-networking site Orkut.

"Our concern is that countries that have been the most vocal advocate of changing control of the Internet are not countries that support an open Internet," said Leslie Harris, the president of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a nonprofit U.S. open-Internet advocacy group.

"It's hard to believe that turning over the Internet to a body subject to negotiations between China's version of the Internet and North Korea's version of the Internet will result in an Internet that's more open and free."

Dewayne Hendricks
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