WSJ Columnist: Putin 'Aspires to Control' the Internet

Image: WSJ Columnist: Putin 'Aspires to Control' the Internet

Monday, 12 May 2014 05:30 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Russian President Vladimir Putin's tightened grip on the Internet threatens to strangle everyone's access,  and the Obama administration is helping him do it, Wall Street Journal columnist L. Gordon Crovitz warns.

"Putin aspires to control websites not just in Russia but anywhere in the world," Crovitz writes, urging passage of proposed legislation in Congress to prohibit U.S. surrender of the Internet.

Crovitz notes the Obama administration has fueled Putin's ambitions of global Internet control by announcing in March the U.S. would give up control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the root zone filenames and addresses of the global Internet.

"Ultimate U.S. protection has allowed engineers and network administrators to run the Internet without political interference," Crovitz notes.

But if the United States gives up oversight, a majority of countries could vote to give governments control, he writes.

Secretary of State John Kerry last month declared people around the world have a fundamental right to the Internet, denouncing governments that restrict web access and social medial, declaring that nations supporting an open Internet have a "common responsibility to try to tear down those walls just as it was our responsibility to try to do that during the Cold War," Crovitz writes.

"Yet it was the Obama administration that gave Russia the means to build this wall," he complains.

Crovitz says Putin knows that "whoever controls filenames and addresses controls the global Internet."

"With majority voting, authoritarian governments could disable websites of Ukrainian bloggers in the U.S. or free-speech groups in London," he wrote.

Given the backlash to the administration's plan to give up control when its contract overseeing ICANN expires in 2015, officials now concede the contract could be renewed until 2019.

"But administration officials continue to set expectations with other governments and ICANN that U.S. control ends next year," Crovitz charged.

"The sooner the Obama administration reverses course and agrees to continue U.S. stewardship, the sooner Mr. Putin will go back to censoring his own Internet but without the ability to censor everyone else's," he wrote.

Russia has quietly passed a so-called bloggers law requiring anyone getting 3,000 or more daily visitors to register with the government – and buckle under tight limits on what they can say – and for global engines and media companies to keep records in Russia so Moscow can have a look, Crovitz noted.

A spokesman for Yandex, Russia's largest search engine, said the new laws are "yet another step in increasing government control over the Internet in Russia, which will negatively impact the development of the industry," Crovitz wrote.

Russia's restrictive blogger laws have one purpose, NPR reports.

"The objective of those laws is to block the Russian Internet from the rest of the world," blogger Anton Nosik told NPR, "and to shut down the biggest foreign social networks, to block access to foreign social networks for Russian users, and to establish control over networks that are physically based in Russia."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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