Rob Douglas: Falling prey to the United Nations?



For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email

— On Dec. 3, a global battle will commence in the United Arab Emirates. By Dec. 14 — without a single shot fired — the last frontier of freedom could fall prey to the United Nations. Specifically, the Internet as we know it could cease to exist in ways that will profoundly impact national security, privacy, freedom of expression and free trade. And yet, the Obama administration is not moving fast enough to thwart this threat, and the American people seem tragically unaware of this pending loss of freedom and security.

The International Telecommunications Union is the United Nations’ official agency for information and communication technologies. On Dec. 3, the ITU will convene the first World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai. As the ITU notes on the Web page promoting the meeting, “The conference will consider a review of the (1988) International Telecommunication Regulations, which define the general principles for the provision and operation of international telecommunications. Signed by 178 countries, ITRs are a global treaty applied around the world.”

Given that seemingly benign description, it is easy to understand why most Americans are unaware of the danger that lurks behind the words.

Enter Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell.

Commissioner McDowell — by means of a series of interviews, op-eds and remarks at conferences across the world — has been doing yeoman’s work attempting to raise the alarm and educate the general populace about the dangers inherent from U.N. control over the Internet.

Consider the following points as presented by McDowell in various forums:

The 1988 International Telecommunication Regulations global treaty adopted by the ITU (pre-dating what now is called the Internet) allowed for the rapid development and growth of the Internet by exempting computer-to-computer communications from traditional telecom regulation.

Since 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has governed the Internet. According to ICANN, it operates as a “not-for-profit public-benefit corporation with participants from all over the world dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable.”

The goal of the World Conference on International Telecommunications this December is to renegotiate and redraft the 1988 ITR global treaty in order to give the International Telecommunications Union jurisdiction over the Internet. While the draft proposals will seem “innocuous and small at first, there’s going to be a big line crossed and that will be from the U.N. not regulating the Internet, to it having jurisdiction over the Internet … that would be just the first stage of an incremental” U.N. takeover of the Internet.

“This could involve cybersecurity and privacy. It could involve regulating engineering standards that are now done by non-governmental groups of engineers and not international bureaucrats.”

“International regulatory overlay would be devastating to free trade and free expression throughout the world.”

Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin recently stated, “We should have international control over the Internet” through the International Telecommunications Union.

Russia and China seek “an international treaty through the ITU so the U.S. lives by one standard and they (Russia and China) breach the treaty the way we saw with the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) treaty.”

As many as 90 countries of the 193 member states in the International Telecommunications Union are on board to grant the ITU jurisdiction over the Internet.

“Not just our government, but governments throughout the world, as well as industry, really (need to) understand the severity of this effort, this time, is unlike any other time in Internet history.”

Lest anyone thinks McDowell is a GOP partisan raising undue alarm to create additional controversy for President Barack Obama in the midst of an election year, McDowell was the first Republican to be appointed to an independent agency by President Barack Obama and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2009. In fact, McDowell is held in high esteem by both parties, and McDowell has gone out of his way to give deference to the Obama administration for its handling of this crucial issue.

Still, McDowell seems frustrated that the Obama administration — specifically the State Department — has not been more aggressive in educating other countries that will be present at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in December as to why it is in their best interest for ICANN to remain in control of the Internet. Recently, McDowell stated, “I’m just a bit anxious that we seem to be slower moving on this one than we have been on similar fights in recent years.”

Indeed, this is an issue on which there is no time to waste. Here in the U.S., there is bipartisan political support and industry support for keeping the Internet free from U.N. control. What is needed is for the Obama administration, all members of Congress and the global business community to unite in a coordinated, expedited effort to educate their individual constituencies about this threat in order to bring global pressure on International Telecommunications Union member states to thwart the UN. from “fixing” an Internet that is not broken.

Otherwise, the world may lose the last frontier of freedom.

Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C., private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Douglas is an authority on the use of social engineering to steal protected information. His investigative work and congressional testimony resulted in the passage of state and federal laws. Douglas’ current focus is the intersection of national security, politics and the Internet.


Eric J. Bowman 5 years ago

Sorry Rob, but your article leads readers to believe that the effort to undo ICANN is based entirely in anti-Americanism. An analysis of the real reasons for the global backlash against ICANN will demonstrate why many believe ICANN itself, and the U.S. government, represent the real threat to Internet freedom. Suggested reading, with the usual caveats about Wikipedia and checking those references at the bottom before drawing any conclusions:

As you can see, ICANN has been controversial since its inception. One thing that wasn't disputed back in 1998, was that the U.S.A. was the best choice to operate ICANN due to our being a nation of laws with strong constitutional protection of individual liberty -- totally noncontroversial then, but the recent history of ICANN (setting aside the gTLD issue, which is another current, ongoing, significant cause of global backlash) demonstrates otherwise, given its complicity in the lawless seizure of domain names. Our actions are speaking louder than our words, globally, which is why the notion of sticking with US-controlled ICANN is so controversial now.

Two years ago, ICANN's official position, when asked by the DOJ to seize hundreds of fake-pharma domain names, was that shutting off domains at the root name servers was outside its authority, as anyone reading ICANN's published bylaws can see. A short time later, ICANN began shutting domains off at the root nameserver level at the behest of ICE, which is tasked with enforcing Internet crime. The reason I didn't get smacked down for posting this message (in response to Sir Tim, no less) after such seizures had gone down for a second time... because I'm correct; ICANN didn't change its bylaws, at least not in any public or transparent fashion, and by taking such action has in fact exceeded its published mandate. The result is an increase in the architectural problem of URI (non-) persistence (as I uncontroversially reported to the w3c TAG), a result which contradicts its mission statement of contributing to the stability of the Web.


Eric J. Bowman 5 years ago

Also, the source I posted, while certainly biased, is quite accurate -- as is their followup:

Be sure to watch the video clip, confirming that the erroneous seizure of 84,000 domains took place over yet another weekend (presumably, to avoid the news cycle, certainly none of this controversy has made it into this newspaper). Even though a judge signed off on the seizures, as far as I know, none of those 84,000 domain owners were even suspected of child pornography, or any other crime -- just victims of the sort of random errors by law enforcement that due process is supposed to protect against.

Imagine the permanent stigma of having your website replaced for a few days with a federal notice implying you've been charged as a child pornographer -- most of those domains were owned by legitimate small businesses, and it's likely that more than one was put under by this with no recourse but an uber-expensive lawsuit sure to be thrown out on grounds of governmental immunity. So, good luck clearing your good name, if this happens to you. Just what the founders envisioned for our nation when they left due process out of the Constitution...

The real problem here, is we already have laws which provide mechanisms for combating online piracy, child pornography, fake-pharma sites, etc. In the case of copyright abuse, we have the DMCA and its system of due process, i.e. take-down notices applying only to illegal content, rather than entire domains including all their legal content (aka prior restraint); plus a procedure which allows an affirmative defense to be invoked (i.e. "fair use" or Title 17 of the copyright act). Ironically, the seizure notices for copyright violation point to the DMCA as their legal basis, which it clearly isn't.

But, ICE is not following those laws in its enforcement actions. This problem has only grown worse since 2010. The laws which give ICE the authority to seize domain names as "in rem" civil forfeiture (seizing a domain name is more akin to seizing a printing press, than it is seizing a car -- the First Amendment comes into play) are NOT on the books. Congress considered, but ultimately didn't pass, legislation known as COICA, which simply reappeared later as SOPA/PIPA, which weren't defeated but merely tabled.

So, ICE is not following our laws as they are written, which require a procedure be followed with the registrars of the domains in question -- instead, they're doing an end-run around that procedure by going straight to ICANN. Which, if it were legal, wouldn't require legislative cover that's too toxic to pass mostly because of this end-run around DMCA and other well-established, well-litigated laws.


Eric J. Bowman 5 years ago

So the US Government getting ICANN to disable domains at the root nameservers is not only beyond ICANN's purview, but is not supported by any law -- at least not any that have come up for a vote. There is no due process, as the 84,000 domain owners who had their property (domains) seized for not being child pornographers can tell you, and ICANN's actions appear to violate the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. So perhaps the reason why the State Department isn't trying harder to persuade other countries to support ICANN based on a preservation-of-liberty argument, is our ambassadors don't want to get laughed out of those countries for hypocrisy?

I'd love to argue on behalf of ICANN in the technical circles I run in, except it would cost me what credibility I have, Rob, as those circles are highly internationalized. Unless you can give me a leg to stand on, other than American Exceptionalism? If you don't want the UN to take over ICANN's responsibilities due to global consensus based on the fact that ICANN's broken, perhaps beyond repair, then what would you suggest we do to reign ICE and ICANN back into following the laws and bylaws as written, rather than as envisioned (in COICA/SOPA/PIPA, and now watch out for CISPA), and back under the purview of the Constitution with some sort of due process involved in these asset seizures?

Unless you have answers for those questions, I would suggest that UN control of IANA may be our best hope for not losing that last frontier of freedom, as our government is in the midst of a massive FAIL in that regard.


Eric J. Bowman 5 years ago

This is a bit outdated as it refers to COICA, but the points are still valid, and I'm posting this because it was right -- the actions of ICE and ICANN, being exactly what this document warns against passing the enabling legislation for, has led to exactly the problems this document warns it will lead to:

" All censorship schemes impact speech beyond the category they were intended to restrict, but this bill will be particularly egregious in that regard because it causes entire domains to vanish from the Web, not just infringing pages or files. Worse, an incredible range of useful, law-abiding sites can be blacklisted under this bill. These problems will be enough to ensure that alternative name-lookup infrastructures will come into widespread use, outside the control of US service providers but easily used by American citizens. Errors and divergences will appear between these new services and the current global DNS, and contradictory addresses will confuse browsers and frustrate the people using them. These problems will be widespread and will affect sites other than those blacklisted by the American government. "

Architecturally, centralized management of the root name servers is required for the Internet to function, is what they're saying. It's also critical to security and law enforcement, that this centralized management to be preserved. The problem with America's recent behavior of abusive law enforcement regarding domain names, is what it has spawned -- which will only get worse if the ITU decides to keep IANA under ICANN control. Sorry for the old links, but this issue's been around for a while...

"Alternative" DNS systems (P2P DNS, and I'm sure there are more since last I looked) amount to darknets, and the more of these which appear, the less reliable the Internet will be for everyone. These DNS darknets will be beyond the law. Regardless of whether the US or the UN attempts to manage the IANA registries at the heart of Internet architecture, the more lawless the policing becomes, the more law-resistant the Internet will become (as it slows down and breaks down, as the IANA registries lose authority and relevance).

This is why egregious laws like COICA/SOPA/PIPA, and the actions of ICE and ICANN which threaten the freedom of the Internet, represent a threat to the Internet architecture itself. If our government would only remain true to this country's core values of liberty, none of this would be happening now. Overzealous enforcement is counterproductive, as the result will be an un-policeable, fragmented collection of darknets. So the ITU effort to take IANA under UN control, can also be seen as an attempt to stop the anti-ICANN attitude driving the proliferation of such darknets.


Eric J. Bowman 5 years ago

Here's what we find if we follow up on some domain seizures, noting that there isn't much if any coverage in the mainstream media on this issue, and what's there is entirely pro-government for some reason...

Earlier this year was the very-high-profile bust of, one of the largest websites on the Internet; how's that working out for the DOJ?

That last one's disturbing because of the DOJ's rather odd understanding of secondary liability, which is curiously exactly like Hollywood's, which was just explained to them to be off-the-wall wrong for any legal system based in Common Law, by an Australian judge:

The reason I take these issues so personally, is the secondary liability lawsuit threats against ISPs and the aiding-and-abetting charges against web developers, which effectively criminalize the past 18 years of my career. Am I really criminally liable for all copyright infringement my ISP customers might have committed from 1994-2000, or any infringing material appearing on any website I've created for any client since 1994, even if I never knew about it / did it?

The DOJ seems to think so, and this is yet more reason the rest of the planet is worried about our control over the Internet right now. Heck, I'm worried about it, as an American citizen who really doesn't feel I should have to worry about being charged with umpteen hundred counts of aiding and abetting, from choosing a career as ISP / Web Developer, all because our government is in thrall to the special interests nowadays -- sheer speculation, but it now looks like the Megaupload bust was a political gift to some awfully large campaign contributors (RIAA, MPAA) who wanted it gone

If this is how we're operating these days and calling it "law enforcement" it's no wonder there's a global backlash against our continued control over the Internet.


rhys jones 5 years ago

What is the sound of one hand clapping?


Scott Wedel 5 years ago

Our copyright laws have gone bizarre. It is like banning individuals from traveling on highways because they could be smugglers and thus only certified shipping companies are allowed to use the highways. Instead of just searching individuals caught using the highways, US laws allows making such people to disappear from existence.

That is why this is not causing a huge reaction from US tech companies or organizations. Our passed and proposed laws have gotten so bad that an UN administered internet would have portions freer than in the US and would make it harder for bad laws passed in the US to affect the global internet.


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