One beauty of the Internet is the freedom to access, read, and publish information. But an upcoming UN conference could see a move by authoritarian governments to justify restrictions on that freedom.
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) will bring 185 countries to Geneva in December to talk about issues ranging from control of the Internet to providing Web access to the poor.
But like past UN conferences on global issues, there's a risk that countries such as China and Cuba may co-opt the final document if the US and its friends aren't careful. Some 60 percent of countries participating in the WSIS don't have freedom of the press but do have equal votes at the meeting. Undemocratic leaders hope to gain UN legitimacy for blocking any Internet content that might help their political opponents.
Some governments seek to use national security as an excuse to control Internet freedoms. Already, Cuba has tried to include language that would approve government filtering and censorship of private media.
The US delegation must ensure in preconference drafting that the final document defends basic freedoms for Internet users.
The WSIS should uphold Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."