United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, seeking to defuse a feud over internet governance ahead of a global summit next week, wrote in a newspaper column published on Saturday that no proposals exist to create a UN agency to take over the net.
The column, published in the Washington Post, comes amid growing concerns that next week's WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) could be derailed by the politically charged topic of internet governance. Numerous governments and the European Union have called for an international governing body and a reduced role for the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).
Responding to claims that the UN wants to become that body and "take over, police or otherwise control the internet," Annan wrote that "nothing could be farther from the truth."
Last week, several US business and government officials voiced their opposition to a new international body that would reduce, if not totally eliminate, the need for ICANN.
One of them was Michael Gallagher, assistant secretary for communications and information at the US Department of Commerce, who said the US government will "not agree" to a new international governing body. ICANN was created in 1998 by the Department.
In his article, Annan said that while it would be "naive to expect governments not to take an interest" in internet policy, "governments alone cannot set the rules". They must learn, he added, how to work with non-state shareholders that have played critical roles in building and coordinating the internet, and remain a driving force for its further expansion and innovation.
Because discussions on internet governance reached a stalemate at the first WSIS in Geneva two years ago, a working group was established to examine the issue further, according to Annan. The group has suggested creating a forum that would bring all stakeholders together to discuss difficult issues, but have no decision-making power, he said. The group has also offered several options for internet oversight arrangements, with varying degrees of government involvement and relationship to the UN.
But none of these options, Annan wrote, "says the United Nations should take over from the technical bodies now running the internet; none proposes to create a new UN agency and some suggest no UN role at all."
All of the proposals say the day-to-day management of the internet should be left to technical institutions, to shield it from the "heat of day-to-day politics", Annan said.
The Secretary General warned that the Tunis phase of WSIS could end up giving too much focus to internet governance and not enough to the summit's original goal of ensuring that poor countries experience the full benefits of new information and communication technologies.