Balkanizing the Internet

The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was the toppling domino that led to World War One.   The assassin’s action merely added to centuries of resentment and tension which made the Balkan nations ready to consider war. 

Likewise, Edward Snowden is not accountable for the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance of US citizens’ communications nor for its eavesdropping on conversations of leaders in Germany, Brazil and other countries.  But Snowden did orchestrate media coverage so intense that foreign leaders would look like U.S. stooges if they did not strike a belligerent pose and threaten retaliatory actions.  In effect, Snowden has triggered Balkanization of the Internet.

It is no secret that most countries have been eavesdropping on their resident’s phone calls and messages, as they have done for decades.  That is certainly true for UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.  Britain, Germany and France remain quiet about their robust capability for communications monitoring within their own borders.  A few countries (Albania, Egypt, Hungary, India, Malta, Qatar, Romania, South Africa and Turkey) make it unlawful to reveal any information about wiretapping or message intercepts – but that awkward attempt at distraction just reinforces our belief that they eavesdrop for political reasons.

German and Brazilian retaliation over NSA’s surveillance will be to create their own national Internets.  Their Internets will be regulated by their national agencies and require that data and emails be stored inside their own territory.  Both Germany and Brazil intend that their national Internets will avoid American infrastructure vendors in favor of their domestic vendors.  Germany has already announced it will dump Verizon’s services in favor of Deutsche Telekom. The “domestic vendors” shot in the economic arm may offset some of the huge costs needed for Internet infrastructure.  

Internet fragmentation is unlikely to stop there.  France, Russia, China and Iran each feel they have policing, political or cultural reasons to build and regulate an Internet of their own.  France is always annoyed by the popularity (among French viewers) of English programming on the Internet and equally miffed by the paucity of French language media.  A French Internet could right-size the deserved homage to French glory.  China’s Huawei Networks has been considered a security risk by the US and it has been denied Internet communications contracts in Australia and Canada.  The concern is over Huawei’s mechanism(s) that allow for “official” monitoring of conversations and messages.   The question remains – does China always retain monitoring access on a Huawei network? 

The “five eyes” (FVEY) is an association of intelligence agencies within the English speaking countries of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.  Their intelligence agencies are strongly committed to sharing with each other – including intelligence on their own residents.  It is less likely that these countries will feel the need to create a rogue Internet.

In the short run, the loss of some Internet related media, software and equipment sales to Germany, France, Russia, China and Iran would be noticeable.   An inter-Internet Sherpa for exchanging personal communications and trade documents will be needed right away.  But in the longer run, export sales may be restored as Anglophone vendors create attractive multilingual offerings that have nothing to do with security.   

Some other countries may follow a regional leader. For example, Pakistan and India may find Iran’s Sharia-law infused Internet more to their liking and Scandinavia may prefer Germany’s Teutonic model.  

Regardless, the freshly balkanized Internet will not support the rapid growth of high tech trade and free exchange of ideas that we have enjoyed over the past 20 years.

Alan Daley writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research organization.  For more information, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org.

 

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