By Ed Royce

In The Orange County Register:


History is replete with armed conquerors and brutal dictatorships. But great danger to liberty can also come from obscure corners. In fact, a new and high-stakes struggle has begun, one in which every American has a stake.

The continuing freedom of the Internet is threatened by a relatively unknown organization: the International Telecommunication Union, a branch of the United Nations. For many decades the ITU served a largely positive role in facilitating such routine tasks as setting technical standards for global telecommunications systems. But it has never had any role regarding the Internet.

However, at the most recent ITU conference in December, a coalition of governments, including many of the most repressive, hijacked the agenda and opened the door for the ITU to begin regulating the Internet. One of their aims is to control the Internet’s content and any access to it by their citizens.

The U.S. representatives to the conference, along with our allies and most other developed countries, strongly resisted this grab for power and refused to sign the final conference document. But a majority of ITU members, led by China, Russia and developing countries, signed enthusiastically.

Soon the ITU will begin to exercise its new authority and slowly but steadily extend its reach. The camel’s nose is now under the tent.

First, we must understand that this struggle will extend far into the future. Those seeking to bring the Internet under their control will never stop. As Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, their goal is to establish “international control over the Internet.”

Fortunately, we have strength in numbers. Opposition to this new threat is almost universal among Internet-related companies, such as Google, Microsoft and Apple. A wide range of public and private organizations working in this area also oppose the ITU’s expanded role.

Congress has taken notice. Last year, a resolution I strongly supported stressed the need to keep the Internet free from international regulation and maintain the enormously successful model by which it is governed, essentially laissez-faire. It passed both the House and Senate unanimously.

But there is much more to do. This year, legislation I am helping to develop will soon be introduced to help ensure that U.S. policy remains firmly opposed to this and future assaults on Internet freedom.

Congress can also help by shining a spotlight on those who seek to do their work in the shadows. That is why three subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee came together this week in a rare joint hearing to highlight this grab for power and its dangers. Witnesses at the hearing encouraged us to quickly pass legislation opposing the international attack on Internet freedom.

The Internet, born in freedom, made possible the innovations that have transformed virtually every aspect of our lives, from the economy to the workplace and even how we interact with the world around us. If the creativity that produced these wonders is to continue, it will require that we defend that freedom.

The truth of the axiom, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” is being demonstrated once again. At stake is nothing less than the free flow of information and commerce – a cornerstone of our society.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


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