Anyone who has seen benefits from an Internet unobstructed by excessive government interference ought to be concerned by author Arthur Herman‘s latest article for Commentary magazine. Herman details efforts to remove control of the World Wide Web from the Los Angeles-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Herman’s story starts in 2005, when the United Nations sponsored a World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis.

A clear agenda was taking shape, with Chinese help. Free and open access to the Internet was being defined as a “Western” or “Eurocentric” priority that should not be imposed on “developing countries” by a Western institution such as ICANN. Accepting censorship as a governing principle was being defined as showing sensitivity to the needs of the developing world — with a UN-based body as the perfect vehicle for doing it.

Some human-rights groups disagreed. “If we have no freedom of speech,” said one WSIS delegate, a dissident from Zimbabwe, “we can’t talk about who is stealing our food.” But what began in Tunis reached a crescendo in September 2011 in Nairobi, where 2,000 delegates from 100 countries met for an Internet Government Forum (IGF) under UN auspices. There, Russia rallied around the idea of passing control over to the [International Telecommunication Union] as well. According to President Vladimir Putin, the goal of the IGF should be “establishing international control over the Internet,” meaning that national governments, not users, would have the final say in the “norms and rules … concerning information and cyberspace.” Not only China, but also Iran, India, Brazil, and South Africa have signed on to the International Telecommunication Union plan.