Turning the World Wide Web Into a
Tower of Politically Sanitized Babel

by Jack Ballinger
December 9, 2003

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In the Forbes article "WSIS Discovers WWW And Wants In" (copied below), the notion of some international "control" over the Internet is discussed. And while the impetus here is given as "commitment to build a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge." the discussion seems to center on controls far removed from speech. And once a [forgive me, Al Gore] "controlling authority" is set in place, it tends to absorb power until checked. The old "Camel's nose" under the tent flap quickly becomes a herd of, in this case, regulator's.

Based on the debate on controlling the Internet that rages on talk radio and in churches and parent groups across the nation, once any entity has a hand on Internet controls, the pressure to use those controls on "content" will be unbearable. So, I'll intrude with a rant on that tangential possibility.

As one of a semi-organized group of early personal computer users who had used the PC to communicate with others across the nation, and then the globe, I had the opportunity to use the Internet in the 1980's, long before there was a Web, HTML, audio or graphics over the 'Net.

So, maybe that is why I remember something that seems to elude governments (who view the 'Net as needing content regulation), the pundits and many groups that, with good intentions, continually define the Internet as a high-tech bogey man out to corrupt their children. The Internet is none of what they portray.

Put simply, and correctly, the Internet is a phone call. Yes, it is a phone call in which we can "listen" to the other person/company/pervert/government in graphical format. Instead of words, pictures can be used, or text on a page, or sound or any combination thereof.

But it's still just a phone call.

And, as I don't wish to see any government, or the UN, to monitor my conversations and/or decide on whom I might choose to have a conversation, I don't want a government, or the UN, to decide what I do with my phone call on the web.

Yes, perverts use the web. They also use the phone. Some would argue perverts use TV and radio, as some parents view rap music and sexual images in advertising as harmful to their children. But in those cases, parents perform the censorship of the content they allow their children to view or listen to.

If governments get involved in legislating the Web, how long will it be before a future John Ashcroft just decided that he finds that Liberal BS offensive, and forbids Liberal sites? How soon before sites like Dissident Voice, BuzzFlash, Salon.com, Cursor.org and Alternet become the forbidden fruits of intellectual discourse.

Let's remember, the United Nations was not formed as an International FCC, it was formed to promote peace and stability on the planet. Unfortunately, with much help from the Bush administration, the UN has become a miserable failure at that task. That should show a desperate need for the countries of the globe to get to work on fixing the UN to where it can help contain an arrogant superpower Hell-bent on world domination. It should not show that the UN needs an additional mandate to monitor our phone calls/Internet use.

It doesn't show a need to transform the UN into a worldwide censor of political and/or moral thoughts expressed over the phone!

Parents have had to adapt to changes in the dangers facing their kids from time immemorial. They need to do so again. There are many "Internet Nanny" type programs out there that perform the task of limiting the sites a child can access from a computer. They need to use them. They need to familiarize themselves with their children's interests in order to help them advance their interests in a manner that also keeps them safe. But they don't need someone at a desk in the UN building to decide those things for them.

Jack Ballinger is a Vietnam Veteran, with a Bronze Star, 2 Air Medals, a Combat Infantryman’s Badge (CIB) and a bunch of other pretty military ribbons. “I was Honorably Discharged in 1971. Both of my grandfathers fought in WWI, and both my father and my father-in-law were Marines in WWII.” He can be contacted at: NYCHASpotlight@netscape.net


Other Articles by Jack Ballinger


* All Part of the Plan
War Isn't Hell. Hell is for Those Who Send Their Children to Fight Unnecessary Wars

* Freedom!

* Oh Say, Can You See?

* My America

* Searching for the Breach in Alice’s Looking Glass World



WSIS Discovers WWW And Wants In
Dan Ackman, 12.08.03, 9:06 AM ET

In 1998, the International Telecommunication Union met in Minneapolis and decided there should be a World Summit on the Information Society under the administration of the United Nations. Just five years later, that summit is a reality, and the WSIS will be held in Geneva this week. The next summit will be in 2005, in Tunisia.

As of yesterday, the Geneva WSIS registered nearly 13,000 participants from 174 countries. More than 9,000 are from states or non-governmental organizations. Just 636 are from businesses. Business members include such companies as might be expected like Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ), IBM (nyse: IBM - news - people ) and Time Warner (nyse: TWX - news - people ) as well as multinationals like Exxon Mobil (nyse: XOM - news - people ), Coca-Cola (nyse: KO - news - people ) and McDonald's (nyse: MCD - news - people ), not particularly known for their roles in the information society. Most countries will send lesser lights, but 60 heads of state, such as Cuba's Fidel Castro.

But even before the full summit gets under way, important issues have been resolved. Negotiators have reached deals on human rights and managing the Internet, according to reports by some of the 900 media representatives in at the summit. They are still at odds over how to help expand Internet access for the poor. But they did agree to study further ways to administer the Internet, whose protocols are now managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a semi-private body created by the U.S. government in 1998.

Lest you think that the World Summit on the Information Society is moving too slowly to have any real impact on world information, consider some of its interim achievements. In 2001, just three years after deciding that there should be a summit, the ITU decided it that there should two summits, first Geneva, then Tunis. The ITU also caused the United Nations to endorse the summit and to do it "through an open-ended intergovernmental preparatory committee that would define the agenda of the summit, decide on the modalities of the participation of other stakeholders in the summit, and finalize both the draft declaration and the draft plan of action."

They have achieved the passage of five additional UN resolutions plus one report. They have also conducted and judged a WSIS poster competition that attracted more than 1500 drawings from 38 countries. The three winners and top regional winners can be sent as e-cards from the WSIS Web site.

So what exactly does the WSIS want? According to Paragraph 1 of the Draft Declaration of Principles, it seeks a "commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge." That seems doable, indeed it may have been done already, as the Internet has certainly made a lot of information accessible.

But here, in Paragraph 2, is the tricky part. Not only does the WSIS want information for all, it wants "to harness the potential of information: Promote the development goals of the Millennium Declaration, namely the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achievement of universal primary education; promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women; reduction of child mortality; improvement of maternal health; to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability" and so on and so forth--for 62 more paragraphs.

That seems an awful lot to expect from a bunch of computers and network protocols. And if the WSIS can do all that-- all while paying "special attention to the particular needs of developing countries, countries with economies in transition, Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States, Landlocked Developing Countries, [and] Highly Indebted Poor Countries--wouldn't the rest of the UN be redundant?

The WSIS does not ignore details particular to the Internet. Paragraph 34 deals with spam and cyber-security indicating they should be dealt with at "at appropriate national and international levels." As for pedophilia and child pornography, those abuses should be prevented by "all actors in the Information Society," who also must tackle "acts motivated by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, [defamation of religions] and related intolerance, hatred, violence--and trafficking in, and exploitation of, human beings."

Perhaps the WSIS should have started small, such as declaring the right to e-mail, or the right to download music. Or it could have focused on getting governments out of the way, in which case the information society, like information, would certainly spread. But with extreme poverty and eradication of disease on the agenda, the WSIS will still have plenty of reasons to continue in Tunisia in two years, and for decades after that.




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