President Barack Obama's move to cede control of the Internet to the international community may be akin to former President Jimmy Carter's decision to give away the Panama Canal but will have worse consequences, says Christian Whiton, former adviser at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration.
"It is actually more dangerous. There are some similarities. The [Torrijos-Carter treaties], which gave away the Panama Canal, was sort of the same type of global approach where I cynically say it's making the world safe for cocktail parties. It's creating some sort of undefined goodwill in the international community, whatever that was, in return for giving away something very significant," he told Newsmax TV's John Bachman and J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" on Tuesday.
"This is a big deal. This is the ability not just to name domains, which itself is a big deal, but potentially the ability to disable the entire Internet at a time of crisis."
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Whiton, author of "Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War,"
said it also enables Russia and China to muscle in and change the Internet in favor of their own national security advantages.
"This eventually ends up at the U.N. if we free it from the minimal oversight that the Commerce Department has. I'll bet this ends up in Geneva. The [Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers CEO [Lebanese-born Fadi Chehadé], a very international guy himself, has already said he wants to open an office in Geneva. Which means you are in a venue where the U.S. consistently loses and where China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and others do very well," he said.
Although the Swiss have a reputation for being neutral, that can prove problematic in situations like this, Whiton said, adding, "For example, the U.N. Human Rights Council, which meets in Geneva, is a U.N. body. Just look at the name, it's supposed to be about human rights. Does this organization condemn China, condemn Russia, condemn Iran? No, it's actually just as apt to look into the conduct of Israel, the United States, and other free nations."
"So, is there going to be a tax on Israeli companies trying to register domain names because this organization doesn't like them? Is there going to be a tax on U.S. companies? Also, does that tax free the U.N. from the limited control that we have by being the one who writes the paychecks for them?"
Asked whether it is conceivable that the United Nations would try to levy an international Internet tax on all users, Whiton replied, "Yeah. It would be inevitable, I think, if we let this one go, because the U.N. has wanted this for a long time. They tried to get a tax on international currency transactions, they tried to get the Law of the Sea Treaty, which if ratified by the U.S. Senate would give the U.N. the ability to tax some mining offshore in the U.S. So, yeah, I think it's a no-brainer that they're going to go after this."
As for how the U.N. could levy a tax on U.S. citizens, with the Constitution granting that authority only to Congress, Whiton said, "They would just say might makes right. 'We control the Internet registrations, and so if you want a website for your church or your muffler shop or whatever, then you better pony up. And we see you're registering from the United States so that costs extra, pay your fair share. You have a program that involves travel to Israel or a fellowship with Israel, and that costs extra, too, because we do not like that whole Zionism thing.' I'm being cynical here, but that is the beginning."
He cautioned that major companies like Comcast and Time Warner, which have a huge stake in this shift and what it could mean for the Internet, may be underestimating the impact.
"They sort of buy the whole global thing. They go to Davos and places like that and think that this can be managed, think that the global Internet community that is going to host will act beneficially. And they, through their business models, haven't really gotten a glimpse of the horrors of the U.N. system the way people who have worked on human rights and democracy and national security do. They are going to be in for a big surprise," Whiton said.
"Also, this is a bipartisan problem in Washington with general inattention to foreign policy issues. We follow the shiny object, and this last couple of weeks it has been Crimea, and that's a very important thing, but there has been inattention to the tools of statecraft that exist between diplomacy that really do matter for our national security."
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