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IGF - ICANN protesters face human rights protesters

By Steve Malone

Posted on 31 Oct 2006 at 12:39

The forum established to debate the future of the global Internet is already running towards a major split in Athens. The Internet Governance Forum was set up by the United Nations following a meeting of the World Summit on the Internet Society.

Although the US is slowly loosening its control of ICANN, this is not enough for some of the delegates.

The secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, Mr Utsumi, summed up the view of many when he lambasted the US for dragging its feet over independence for ICANN and its stonewalling at the World Summit. 'Many of them are tired of hearing "you just don't understand". Many do fully understand, particularly after WSIS. No matter what self-serving justifications are made that this is the only possible way to do things, there are no such systems or technologies that can eternally claim they are best.'

However, many human rights groups fear that those who are the loudest in their calls for the end of US hegemony over the Internet are among those who would like to end the right of freedom of speech, which has become embedded in the Internet in most of the world.

The free speech group Reporters without Frontiers says on its site while 'it is unacceptable' for the US to retain control of ICANN, it points out that 'China, Cuba and the world's most repressive countries are trying to get the job of regulating the Internet assigned to an independent supranational organisation - the United Nations'. It concludes: 'This is an alarming idea. Do we really want the countries that censor the Internet and jail cyber-dissidents to be in charge of the online flow of information.'

Meanwhile Amnesty International has issued a call for bloggers to 'stand up for freedom of expression' on the Internet. Steve Ballinger, part of Amnesty International's delegation to the IGF, said 'The Internet Governance Forum needs to know that the online community is bothered about free expression online and willing to stand up for it.'

The proceedings of the opening session are available here.

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