Europarl in "doing the right thing" shocker

It pains me physically to do this, but I have to applaud a recent Europarl vote: specifically, where the European Parliament is pushing back on the ITU's attempted Internet power grab:

[The European Parliament] believes that the ITU, or any other single, centralised international institution, is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over either internet governance or internet traffic flows," the resolution reads. It was passed by a large majority of EP officials.
For those of you not following this event in detail, the UN-based International Telecommunications Union (which wouldn't know "innovation" if it sidled up and bit it on the arse) has been pushing to be more involved in Internet regulation. This has notably been led by such bastions of freedom and democracy as Russia and China.

Where global Internet regulation really matters is the Domain Name System (DNS), the process whereby a name such as "www.facebook.com" gets translated into a series of numbers such as (the "IP address" of the site). There is a hierarchy of servers providing this look-up, but they end up at the 13 Internet root name servers. If a user in (say) Russia wants to look up information about feminism, she will conduct a Google / Bing / Baidu search for the relevant terms. Baidu will probably not have very many hits, but Google or Bing should point her to relevant sites. With luck, those sites will support the https protocol so anyone eavesdropping on her connection can see that she has connected to an IP address that matches the campusprogress.org site, but not what she is reading about.

The only way that she can normally connect to the campusprogress.org servers is to use DNS to convert the campusprogress.org name to the corresponding IP address. If Russia (via the ITU) can gain control over DNS globally, it can prevent campusprogress.org from obtaining an IP address - and hence shut it out of public awareness. Those in the know can certainly connect to it by entering the IP address directly, but that address form is a lot harder to remember and propagate than the name. The advent of IPv6 will make this even more of an issue. How I suspect this would actually play out is that the rules around purchasing a domain name, and who can serve on one, would suddenly mushroom. There would be various approval processes, codes of conduct, the ability of the ITU to yank or reassign domain names in an essentially arbitrary process... exactly what you expect to happen when totalitarian and bureaucratic organisations get their hands on a global system.

What really bugs me about the ITU power-grab is that it violates the engineering maxim "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The only way the Internet is "broken" from the ITU's perspective is that a) America retains an "unhealthy" amount of theoretical power over the infrastructure of the Net, and b) "unaccountable" organisations like the IETF define the standards by which the Net operates. What it can't articulate is how it would "improve" matters in any tangible way other than by giving governments more control over the Net infrastructure - and I would be fascinated to see an elaboration on this point that goes beyond waving around the phrase "democratic accountability" like a dead cat.

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