OPINION: Rep. Adam Kinzinger in POLITICO: Keep the Internet Free

April 1, 2013

 

Keep the Internet Free
By Rep. Adam Kinzinger
April 1, 2013

From the time of the Internet’s invention, the immense creativity and rapid expansion of the World Wide Web has been propelled by its freedom from government control. Now, that freedom is facing a threat from an entity that, to many, is unfamiliar - The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a branch of the United Nations. The issues involved are complex, but the stakes are easy to grasp: Will we allow the essential freedom of the Internet to be undermined by opening the door to regulation by an international organization?

The ITU has existed for many decades and has played a useful role in helping ensure the smooth functioning of the global telecommunications system. However, at a recent ITU conference in Dubai, a group of countries, many with repressive governments, hijacked the agenda and secured approval of a provision that gives the ITU a brand-new role in regulating the Internet.

The leaders of these countries hope to use the ITU as a vehicle to help them clamp down on dissent in their nations. They seek to prevent access to information they view as threatening and, if allowed to succeed, the impact will not be limited to their countries.

Limiting or cutting off internet access to any population threatens the global sharing of ideas and information; the very thing that has enabled the Internet to thrive. If millions of people suddenly lose the ability to access or share content, every user around the world will feel the effects.

At the conference, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and many other developed nations strongly opposed this move, while a majority of countries, many of which are small and have little at stake, were persuaded to support it. Despite our strong objections, the ITU may continue to move in the direction of increased Internet controls.

Fortunately, the ITU does not currently have the ability to make good on this threat. But it’s only a matter of time before those seeking to place more controls over the Internet will attempt their next power grab.

We must take advantage of this warning, and move immediately to protect the Internet. The first step is to inform the public of the threat and what we can do to stop it. To that end, two committees on which I serve – the Foreign Affairs and Energy & Commerce Committees – recently held a joint hearing in which there was bipartisan agreement on the need to address this issue quickly and firmly.

In addition, there is a clear need for legislation. That is why I support draft legislation considered at the hearing that would make it U.S. policy to promote a global Internet free from government control and to preserve and advance the successful multi-stakeholder model that currently governs the Internet. Such legislation would send a strong signal that the U.S. will not allow repressive regimes to place controls over the free and open use of the web.

The Internet’s creation and astonishing growth were not the result of government planning or regulation, but the very opposite. If the Internet is to grow, it must be protected from these attacks.

The familiar saying, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” contains a great truth. Those who wish to enjoy the benefits of liberty have no option but to accept their responsibility to defend it. I pledge to continue working with my colleagues to keep the internet free and open.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger is a Republican from Illinois.

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