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Associated Press/Photo by Martial Trezzini/Keystone

Virtual power grab

Technology | Nations move to exert control of internet communications

Issue: "De-coding Morsi," July 28, 2012

Are Russia, China, and other world powers plotting to restrict internet freedoms through a United Nations agency? U.S. observers from both sides of the political spectrum fear they are, and are calling on the Obama administration to stand against it.

A global treaty managed by the International Telecommunication Union, a body made up of 193 UN member nations, sets overarching guidelines for how international phone calls and internet traffic is handled. The ITU will meet in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in December to update treaty text for the first time since 1988, and according to a 212-page conference planning document leaked online in June, some nations are lobbying for changes that jeopardize virtual free speech.

Russia and Iran, for instance, propose allowing countries to impose a toll on incoming internet traffic, a move that could limit foreigners' access to U.S.-based companies with a large web presence, such as Google and Apple. Other nations want the right to inspect private email. China proposes that countries be allowed to force websites to operate only "in a rational way" within their borders. China was blocking Facebook and Bloomberg news websites in July even while the country endorsed an unprecedented resolution by the UN Human Rights Council calling for internet freedom of speech.

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Some nations propose giving the UN power to govern internet addresses-especially worrisome since that responsibility now falls to the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a self-regulating, nonprofit organization that governs internet structure and enjoys a warm relationship with the U.S. government. Some foreign powers want to downsize U.S. influence on internet policy, and the Dubai meeting will be their opportunity to do so. An amended treaty wouldn't bind the United States, but it could disrupt the international flow of information.

In a column in The Wall Street Journal, L. Gordon Crovitz said the leaked documents showed U.S. diplomats had thus far couched their objections to the foreign proposals in the politest terms, "weak responses even by Obama administration standards." Last month's revelation that the United States has conducted secret cyber-attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities doesn't help the U.S. argument favoring less government control. But if the Obama administration doesn't exert its weight in Dubai, experts say, Russia and China certainly will.

Faceburglary

Anderson County Sheriff's Office

"We made it to Disney World! Here I am with Goofy!" As thrilling as it may be to share photos and updates about your summer vacation with friends and acquaintances on Facebook and Google Plus, police recommend you think twice. Investigators in Anderson, S.C., say Robert Landreth Jr., 44, and Candace Landreth, 39, burglarized four homes after watching for Facebook users to announce their vacations. In April the duo allegedly stole thousands of dollars' worth of electronics and valuables from the home of a Facebook "friend," including $6,400 in jewelry.

According to a preliminary FBI report, burglary is the only property crime that did not decrease in 2011. If you simply can't resist posting about your Grand Canyon trip on Facebook, here's a tip: Create a "list" of friends and family you trust, and make your vacation updates visible only to them. -Daniel James Devine

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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