No one ‘owns’ the internet

This morning’s Observer column about WSIS.

The governance row was so acrimonious not just because of resentment of America’s allegedly dominant role, but also because many regimes throughout the world cannot abide the notion that something as powerful and pervasive as the net should not be controlled.

What these folks do not grasp is that lack of control is the whole point of the net. It was designed from the ground up to be a self-organising, permissive system. A central feature of its architecture is that there would be no ‘owner’, no gatekeeper. If your network’s computers spoke the agreed technical lingo, you could hook up to the net, with no questions asked.

In other words, lack of control is not – as Iran, China and a host of other repressive UN members think – a bug, it’s a feature. And it’s what has enabled the explosive, disruptive growth that has made it such a transformative force in the world. In these circumstances, entrusting responsibility for the net to an organisation such as the UN would be as irresponsible as giving a clock to a monkey…