The United Nations has been in a funny place for a while now in regards to the Internet. By funny, of course, I mean terrifying. There has been talk of the UN pushing for the Internet to be put in the hands of a multi-national governmental organization instead of the current NGO multi-stake holder approach. The UN taking control could lead to a disastrous toll on Internet freedom, but the UN apparently also believe that it should be free. Make up your mind, guys!
In what's being heralded as a "landmark resolution" by Reuters, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on Thursday that said free expression and free speech on the Internet is a basic human right. Of course, the UN Human Rights Council has no real power over such things and member nations can still oppress their people all they want. It's more like the UN just said, "Please Mr. Bad Government, let your people talk about what they want on Twitter. It's totally cool if you don't want them to, but we just think it would be nice."
It's still nice to see a multinational group affirming what most of us already knew - access to the Internet and being able to freely express ourselves online should be a basic right in all countries. Unfortunately, that is not the case as we still see countries like India, Japan, China and others all trying to crack down on their citizens' use of the Internet to share information.
The UN also channeled a bit of Uncle Ben yesterday by essentially saying that the great power that comes with the Internet must be coupled with great responsibility. In essence, they feel that governments and ISPs should step up efforts to protect children from the horrors of online gambling and pornography.
In somewhat of a hilarious moment, China and Cuba also put their weight behind the resolution. Both countries begrudgingly said that the Internet is important to "accelerating progress towards development." The irony of China, a country that routinely blocks Web sites that even remotely criticize the state, standing up for Internet freedom is palpable.
Cuba on the other hand approved, but didn't like it. The country's diplomat said that the resolution failed to address that only 30 percent of the world's population have access to the Internet. He also decided to get a little testy with the U.S. by bemoaning the resolution's lack of address towards the fact that the U.S. houses the non-profits that control the Internet. The country apparently feels that ICANN being in the U.S. is equatable to the U.S. ruling the Interent, which couldn't be further from the truth.
The real concern should be with the fact that the UN draws up a resolution like this while the same organization is holding a meeting on taking over the Internet later this year. It almost seems like the multi-national organization is trying to look good after a House hearing thoroughly trashed the idea of a UN takeover by saying it was the worst thing that could ever happen to the Internet.
We'll continue to follow this story as I'm sure China has a few more chuckles up its sleeve as it proclaims the importance of the Internet while blocking Google search results to Tiananmen Square. For your enjoyment, here's the full resolution in glorious, embeddable text: