US defeats Russia in battle to control future of global Internet

CNN business

The United States has soundly defeated Russia in an election to control the United Nations body tasked with shaping global Internet development, a contest seen as geopolitically symbolic amid broader US-Russia tensions and fears of growing online censorship by authoritarian regimes.

On Thursday, members of the International Telecommunication Union voted to appoint Doreen Bogdan-Martin, a US-backed candidate, as the group’s secretary general.

Bogdan-Martin, a New Jersey-born ITU veteran of nearly 30 years, beat his main rival Rashid Ismailov by 139 votes out of 172. Ismailov got only 25 votes. Bogdan-Martin will be the first woman to head the ITU.

“Humbled and honored to have been elected Secretary General of @ITU and grateful for the trust placed in me by the Member States”, Bogdan-Martin he tweeted on Thursday “Ready to lead an ITU that inspires, engages and innovates, enabling everyone, everywhere, to harness the power of #digital to transform their lives.”

US officials campaigned heavily on Bogdan-Martin’s behalf in the wake of the vote, which in some cases was described as a turning point for a free and open Internet, principles increasingly challenged by Russia and China as those countries curtail it. about citizens’ digital freedom.

Last week, President Joe Biden called on UN member states to support Bogdan-Martin, saying his leadership of the ITU will help make the Internet “inclusive and accessible, especially in the developing world.”

The election reflected broader ideological divisions over the future of the Internet, with the United States and its allies pushing for an interconnected system governed equally internationally by UN member states, businesses, civil society groups and technical experts.

A victory for Russia, policy experts said, would likely mean consolidating power in the hands of individual governments to set rules and standards for everything from cellphones to satellites and communications technology within their borders.

This potential change was foreseen in a joint statement by Russia and China last year calling for both countries to have more representation in the ITU and underlining their commitment to “preserve the sovereign right of States to regulate the national segment of the Internet”.

Bogdan-Martin’s wide margin of victory is a sign that few support Russia and China’s vision for the internet, according to the US technology advocacy group the US Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

“The selection of ITU member states shows that technology and the policies that surround it, rather than becoming a tool of control for authoritarian regimes, have an interest in securing technologies and policies,” ITIF said.

Earlier this year, the United States and 55 other countries announced a commitment to defend digital human rights and the free flow of information online, and a senior US official described the effort as “a key part of the overall struggle between authoritarian governments and democracies.” “.

Concerns about an emerging “splinternet”—a digital world characterized by ruptures into democratic and anti-democratic spaces—have heightened this year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the first weeks of the war, Russia blocked major Western social media services, including Facebook, and threatened jail for those who shared information that undermined the Kremlin’s narrative of the conflict.

In response, demand in Russia increased for tools to help Russian Internet users anonymize or bypass government-imposed blocks.