Kofi Annan has an OpEd in today's Washington Post which seeks to reassure people like me that the UN has absolutely no designs on control of the Internet. Besides being a masterful piece of bureaucratic doublespeak, it leaves me trying to figure out what the hell he's trying to say.
On the one hand, we have:
One mistaken notion is that the United Nations wants to "take over," police or otherwise control the Internet. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
And in the very next sentence we get:
The United Nations wants only to ensure the Internet's global reach, and that effort is at the heart of this summit.
Kerthump. In a singe, small paragraph, Kofi, or rather Kofi's ghostwriter, manages to distill the the essence of the UN's ineffectiveness in matters such as this.
The United States deserves our thanks for having developed the Internet and made it available to the world. For historical reasons, the United States has the ultimate authority over some of the Internet's core resources. It is an authority that many say should be shared with the international community. The United States, which has exercised its oversight responsibilities fairly and honorably, recognizes that other governments have legitimate public policy and sovereignty concerns, and that efforts to make the governance arrangements more international should continue.
One of the reasons the Internet works is that it is a uniquely American institution. Kofi seems to think that something that works as brilliantly as the Internet is in need of change. Yet, he can't quite seem to put into words exactly what needs to be changed and how he wants to go about it, other than setting up yet another UN works project for underused and overpaid bureaucrats, also known as a World Summit or Working Group or Forum. That there are governments out there "concerned" with US control of the Internet is understandable. After all, it was designed originally by the Defense Department as a means to preserve military communications in the event of a nuclear decapitation strike. We control the core of the 'Net, therefore we can shut it off. Not that we would do so. As an American, I want control over that technology. Sure, I'll share the 'Net - I can play nice - but I want to be able to flip the switch when some idiot government out there decides to get a little rambunctious with my toy. And the very fact of that matter drives other governments nuts and therefore Kofi is firing off further bits of snarky crap like this:
Everyone acknowledges the need for more international participation in discussions of Internet governance. The disagreement is over how to achieve it. So let's set aside fears of U.N. "designs" on the Internet. Much as some would like to open up another front of attack on the United Nations, this dog of an argument won't bark. I urge all stakeholders to come to Tunis ready to bridge the digital divide and ready to build an open, inclusive information society that enriches and empowers all people.
When a UN Secretary General starts using American colloquialisms to denigrate concerns over the UN being in control of something like the Internet, then you know there's trouble ahead.
How about this little American saying, Kofi: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.