by L. Gordon Crovitz
Editor’s note: The modern Tea Party movement was born out of concern of rampant taxation (i.e., we are “taxed enough already”), a concern firmly grounded in our Constitutional guarantees. Chief among these guarantees is freedom of speech guaranteed by the 1st Amendment. The following December 16th article from The Wall Street Journal reports that a majority of the 193 U.N. member countries have approved a treaty giving governments new powers to close off access to the Internet in their countries. News like this highlights why the Tea Party spirit is needed now more than ever. America must continue to be that “shining city on a hill” to speak out on such abuses worldwide, and—as the United Nations’ reach expands—not be subsumed by that power. Lest, those Constitutional guarantees of today will become only legends for future generations.
The open Internet, available to people around the world without the permission of any government, was a great liberation. It was also too good to last. Authoritarian governments this month won the first battle to close off parts of the Internet.
At the just-concluded conference of the International Telecommunications Union in Dubai, the U.S. and its allies got outmaneuvered. The ITU conference was highly technical, which may be why the media outside of tech blogs paid little attention, but the result is noteworthy: A majority of the 193 United Nations member countries approved a treaty giving governments new powers to close off access to the Internet in their countries.
U.S. diplomats were shocked by the result, but they shouldn’t have been surprised. Authoritarian regimes, led by Russia and China, have long schemed to use the U.N. to claim control over today’s borderless Internet, whose open, decentralized architecture makes it hard for these countries to close their people off entirely. In the run-up to the conference, dozens of secret proposals by authoritarian governments were leaked online.
ITU head Hamadoun Touré, a Mali native trained in the Soviet Union, had assured that his agency operates by consensus, not by majority vote. He also pledged that the ITU had no interest beyond telecommunications to include the Internet. He kept neither promise.
A vote was called late one night last week in Dubai—at first described as a nonbinding “feel of the room on who will accept”—on a draft giving countries new power over the Internet.
The result was 89 countries in favor, with 55 against. The authoritarian majority included Russia, China, Arab countries, Iran and much of Africa. Under the rules of the ITU, the treaty takes effect in 2015 for these countries. Countries that opposed it are not bound by it, but Internet users in free countries will also suffer as global networks split into two camps—one open, one closed.
The U.S. delegation never understood this conference was fundamentally a battle in what might be called the Digital Cold War. Russia and China had long been lobbying for votes, but U.S. opposition got serious only at the conference itself. Even then, Mr. Touré claimed he thought the U.S. would support the ITU treaty: “I couldn’t imagine that at the end they wouldn’t sign.”
The treaty document extends control over Internet companies, not just telecoms. It declares: “All governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance.” This is a complete reversal of the privately managed Internet. Authoritarian governments will invoke U.N. authority to take control over access to the Internet, making it harder for their citizens to get around national firewalls. They now have the U.N.’s blessing to censor, monitor traffic, and prosecute troublemakers.
Internet users in still-open countries will be harmed, too. Today’s smoothly functioning system includes 40,000 privately managed networks among 425,000 global routes that ignore national boundaries. Expect these networks to be split by a digital Iron Curtain. The Internet will become less resilient. Websites will no longer be global.
Under the perverse U.N. definition of progress, Mr. Touré is delighted with the ITU undermining the open Internet. “History will show that this conference has achieved something extremely important,” he said. “It has succeeded in bringing unprecedented public attention to the different and important perspectives that govern global communications.” The treaty calls on countries to “elaborate” their views on the Internet at future ITU conferences, so these issues are here to stay. Robert McDowell, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission, summarized the harm. “Consumers everywhere will ultimately pay the price for this power grab as engineers and entrepreneurs try to navigate this new era of an internationally politicized Internet,” he said. “Let’s never be slow to respond again.”
One lesson is that the best defense of the Internet is a good offense against an overreaching U.N. The majority of authoritarian governments in a one-country, one-vote system will keep chipping away at the open Internet. The best way to stop them is to abolish the ITU.
As outlined in last week’s column, former Obama administration technology adviser Andrew McLaughlin proposes applying the nongovernmental model now operating the Internet to the telecommunications industry as well. That would make the ITU unnecessary. Both houses of Congress voted unanimously against any ITU treaty endangering the open Internet. One expects lawmakers would happily support the Obama administration if it gathers the resolve to abolish the U.N. agency.
Just as during the last Cold War, the clash over the future of the Internet will have many battles across many fronts. Authoritarian governments are highly motivated to close the Internet off. But just as in the Cold War, these regimes are doomed to lose if free countries resolve to fight. Whatever governments want, people prefer freedom and eventually will get it, including on the Internet.
The real cause of our rally today is the attempted destruction of our Constitutional right to freedom of religion. While it is true the action that brought the Faith and Freedom First Coalition together was the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that forces all employers to provide free contraceptive services including sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraceptive pills—this is just the latest salvo in a long string of abuses. Here are others you may have heard about:
–The Department of Justice unilaterally deciding not to enforce or defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
–Repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military and directing military chaplains to perform and make their facilities available for same-sex marriages in states that recognize such “unions.”
–When the Catholic Church issued its denomination-wide letter informing parishioners that the Church “cannot and will not comply with this unjust law” (meaning the forced provision of contraceptive services), the Administration issued orders to all Army chaplains, especially Catholic chaplains, that they were not allowed to read the letter in its entirety to their congregations. If they did, they would be charged with sedition and treason.
The San Antonio Tea Party sees this as a continuing effort on the part of this Administration to erode the right to freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, by exercising powers not granted to the federal government in the Constitution. There is a good reason that freedom of religion is the FIRST Amendment. It is the most important!
We stand with our Catholic brothers and sisters in their determination to oppose this unjust and unconstitutional mandate. We must all stand together and say, “NO MORE!” We must and we will turn back this attack on the religious freedoms of not just Catholics, but all people of faith.
So what do we do about it? We must:
–turn our Resentment into RESOLVE!
–turn our Anger into ACTION!
–turn our Passion into POLITICAL POWER!
Each one of us must decide TODAY that we will do four things:
1) Find out exactly where your US Congressman and Senators stand on the issue of Obamacare versus religious freedom.
2) Become informed on all the actions that your government is considering. YOU must be alert and aware!
3) Make sure you and all of your family and friends are registered to vote.
4) VOTE!!!! In the primary election currently scheduled for May 29, 2012, and in the general election on November 6, 2012.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence nobly pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of freedom. Can we do any less?
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