15 November 2005

"Let's put aside fears of U.N. designs on the Internet...Much as some would like to open another front of attack on the U.N., this dog of an argument won't "bark." That was an excerpt of an ill-advised article drafted for Secretary General Kofi Annan for the Washington Post as we approach a controversial "summit" in Tunis on the Internet. Already, the U.N. Secretariat bureaucrats are perceived as siding with autocrats to explore ways of muzzling free opinion expressed via the Internet. While many problems will need to be handled, the U.N. weakness lent a hand to those pushing for an oppressive agenda. The same day Annan's article appeared, an equal and opposite view came in the Wall Street Journal from his U.S. nemesis Senator Coleman, who saw a "Tom Clancy" type plot -- an anonymous group of international technocrats holding secretive meetings to take over the Internet in order to dominate the world. Also, a former president of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, Moncef Marzooki, stated from his exile in France that "each delegate participating in the Summit is supporting the dictatorship of Ben Ali who is an adversary of any information society." More controversy is likely as the conference date approaches mid-November.

It is understandable, in fact necessary, for the Secretary General to attend. The issue is crucial; the meeting is under U.N. auspices; and Tunis is a country which supported the U.N. regardless of any form of government. It is not advisable for him to get entangled in a risky area where he is neither fully prepared nor is his "team" in leadership shape. The best approach for him to take is first to LISTEN attentively to various viewpoints. On that he needs no coaching. He could then make common cause out of an emerging consensus -- if any. His statement on behalf of the international community, then, should reflect: a) grasp of the problems; b) awareness of the apprehensiveness regarding attempts to control the Internet; and c) a clear declaration in support of freedom of expression and value of human dignity.

And, by the way, lose "that dog"!!