US defeats Russia in battle to control the future of the global internet |  CNN Business

US defeats Russia in battle to control the future of the global internet | CNN Business

CNN Business

The United States soundly beat Russia in an election to control a United Nations body responsible for shaping the global development of the internet, a contest seen as geopolitically symbolic amid broader US-Russian tensions and a response to fears of increasing online censorship by authoritarian regimes.

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

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

“Humbled and honored to be elected @ITU Secretary-General and grateful for the trust that Member States have shown in me,” said Bogdan-Martin. tweeted Thursday. “Ready to lead an ITU that will inspire, include and innovate, so that everyone, everywhere can harness the power of #digital to transform their lives.”

U.S. officials had campaigned for Bogdan-Martin ahead of the vote, describing it in some cases as a turning point for a free and open internet — principles increasingly contested by Russia and China as these countries are rampant. on the digital freedoms of their citizens.

President Joe Biden last week urged UN member states to back Bogdan-Martin, saying his leadership of the ITU will help make the internet “inclusive and accessible to everyone, especially in developing countries.” .

The election reflected broader ideological divisions over the future of the internet, with the United States and its allies favoring a highly interconnected system, governed equally internationally by UN member states, corporations, civil society groups and technical experts.

A victory for Russia, political pundits had said, would likely have meant the consolidation of power under individual governments to establish rules and standards for communications technologies ranging from cellphones to satellites and the Internet within their borders. borders.

This potential power shift was heralded in a joint statement by Russia and China issued last year, calling on both countries to be more represented in the ITU and stressing their commitment to “preserving the sovereign right of States to regulate the domestic segment of the Internet”.

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

“His election by ITU member states shows the international interest in ensuring that technology and the policies surrounding it empower people rather than becoming a tool of control for authoritarian regimes,” ITIF said. .

Earlier this year, the United States and 55 other countries announced their own commitment to defending digital human rights and the free flow of information online, with a senior US official describing the effort as “a key of the global struggle between authoritarian governments and democracies”. .”

Concerns about an emerging ‘splinternet’ – characterized by a fracture of the digital world into democratic and undemocratic spaces – have been heightened this year after Russia invaded Ukraine. During the first weeks of the war, Russia blocked major Western social media services, including Facebook, and threatened with imprisonment those who shared information undermining the Kremlin’s narrative of the conflict.

In response, demand has grown in Russia for tools that can anonymize Russian Internet users or help them bypass government-imposed blocks.

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