Politics & Policy

Let Freedom Ring

The United Nations would do damage to the power of the Internet.

For some time, repressive regimes such as China, Syria, Iran, and Cuba have sought to exert greater control of the Internet in an effort to extend their censorship…

These serial violators of universal freedoms understand that knowledge is power; that awareness by their people of their rights as human beings and as citizens represents a significant threat to their hold on power.

As such, they have distorted the U.S. role regarding the Internet and have sought to manipulate international opinion into believing that oversight of the Internet plays a key role in an ongoing conflict between the industrialized nations versus the underdeveloped and developing world.

Their solution has been to call for the United Nations to set up a mechanism to assume control of the Internet.

The first test of this notorious strategy came last month when the U.N. held its World Summit on the Information Society in the city of Tunis. Fortunately, oversight and coordination of the Internet was left under U.S. jurisdiction. However, attempts by the United Nations–a body that for decades has been riddled with scandals ranging from sexual misconduct, rape, and sex trafficking to embezzlement, fraud, corruption and general mismanagement–and others to control and exert undue influence over the Internet will undoubtedly continue.

While U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that “the United Nations does not want to ‘take over,’ police, or otherwise control the Internet,” the creation of a new Internet Governance Forum at the invitation of Mr. Annan clearly indicates otherwise. As the saying goes: actions speak louder than words.

Apparently, we are to trust the U.N. system–a structure whose agenda continues to be manipulated and hijacked by brutal repressive regimes and serial abusers of human rights–with a critical tool of freedom of expression that is increasingly being used by dissidents and peaceful pro-democracy forces to document their struggle.

This year, several Iranian bloggers have been arrested under trumped-up charges, simply for criticizing and voicing their opposition to the regime and calling for freedom and democracy in their country. In 2004, more than twenty Iranian blogging dissidents were arrested and beaten for their advocacy of human rights and democratic values.

Thus, with 14 percent of the world’s population online, the Internet has become a powerful weapon for democracy, one that helps create that most dangerous and subversive of all threats to totalitarian regimes–a well-informed citizenry.

Censoring the Internet, compromising its technical underpinnings, submitting it to bureaucratic control, or subjecting its administration to brutal dictatorships would mean turning our backs on one of today’s greatest instruments of freedom.

The success of our policies in support of freedom and democracy requires new initiatives to combat totalitarian and authoritarian controls on news and information online. We must guard against the jamming and jailing of Internet users, and we must be watchful of the power plays of supranational organizations such as the United Nations.

The Global Internet Freedom Act represents such a response. When the original sponsor of the act, Representative Christopher Cox, a defender of universal freedoms, left Congress to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, he asked me to assume the lead on this critical legislation.

The Global Internet Freedom Act establishes an Office of Global Internet Freedom in the International Broadcasting Bureau to:

‐bring to bear the pressure of the free world on repressive governments guilty of Internet censorship and of intimidation and persecution of their citizens who use the Internet.

This act also expresses the Sense of Congress that the U.S. should denounce at all opportunities repressive foreign governments that jam the Internet, and introduce a resolution at the U.N. for other nations to do the same.

The Internet illustrates our commitment to free speech, freedom of association, and other rights that we hold to be sacred. We cannot and must not allow these rights to be suppressed by international bureaucrats or totalitarian enforcers. We must continue to ensure a free Internet.

Hon.Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a U.S. representative from Florida who serves as chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia of the House Committee on International Relations.

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