Internet or Splinternet

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The US and the National Security Agency may well have just dug their own grave where the internet is concerned. Outwardly the eavesdropping and the spying has outraged the leaders (although they have done little in retaliation so far) around the world to actually do anything of any worth towards the United States except say ‘this is just not the done thing’ and ‘we’re friends, aren’t we?’. Despite the fact that their reactions might change in the growing row over the privacy of the countries on which the NSA has been (is still?) spying simply because the leaders of those countries might be more afraid of losing their own power if they sit back and do nothing. Inwardly, there is an opening for a grabbing-match to take place and for the Internet blanket to be pulled closer to their side of the bed. The NSA may have just opened the door to the balkanization of the internet: the division into smaller, and at the very same time more-hostile, separate entities that will bring about personal profit and gain for each country.  As the world turns already in upon itself for protection and fear of immigration or scapegoating par excellence become the order of the day, this may just be another step in the process of ‘I’m-alright-Jack’ economics and self-protectionist measures. It’s time for the internet to be regionalized and split. Welcome to the splinternet.

Jockeying for a Place

There are countries in the world that are already out to get a piece of whatever there is to divide up after the split takes place. Brazil and Germany are both making proposals today that will open the path to a different era of internet.

The scramble is on as there may be an opportunity to exploit the fact that the USA has used (and abused) digital means of accessing communications. This will enable traffic to be routed locally.

There may be a downside of rapid growth being hindered and changes or innovation taking longer than today, but countries would have (greater?) individual control over what happens to their citizens’ communications. Brazil has also put forward the defense of a secure national email service. Others will have little possibility of avoiding following suit. Although, it begs the question as to whether this would actually stop the availability of openings in the systems to allow the NSA to continue its surveillance.

India has even reverted to using typewriters as diplomatic staff have been told to protect sensitive documents in embassies around the world. Although, is this the real answer to protecting privacy today. Eavesdropping might have existed for centuries and it might be one of the oldest practices of any government anywhere, but today the digital and technical means make that much easier to do. They will be using pens next!

In the EU, Germany’s privacy commission has put forward plans to keep internet traffic out of the reach of the USA and within EU borders. But, there is the added problem of the UK involved in all of that since they aided and abetted the NSA in their eavesdropping.  Last week at the Internet Governance Forum 2013 in Bali, there was an overriding element in all discussions: the US (and UK role) in the internet surveillance and individuals’ privacy.

Privacy is Important

According to recent research in the USA

  • 3.5 billion people in the world use internet today and they go on line every day.
  • 59% of the people aged 18-29 in the USA believe that the internet shapes their lives today.
  • 38% of people over 65 also believe the same.
  • Nearly 90% of people of all age groups are concerned about their privacy on the internet.
  • 86% of people on line have taken the necessary measures to attempt to mask their footprints (email encrypting and cookie removal). Although, it has been proved that this has had no effect on the NSA.

Some say that the internet is just like the banking system. It only works just as long as people say that it is workable. As soon as people start pulling out of the system or disbelieving in it, then it collapses. If the system collapses because people want their own Cloud systems in each individual country, their own email provider, their own internet, then they could mean extra costs for companies in the future and losses that might amount to $35 billion of the internet market alone for the USA.

At one time it was the US that made the world a safe place to live in (apparently, people were told). Now, they have lost all credibility in the US and countries around the world are determined to find alternative ways to providing their citizens with the privacy that they believe to be so important. If they don’t, then the power of the ballot will be stronger than the bit. If they do it, then those countries will benefit from increased business. Why on earth did the Chinese set up their own personalized form of internet? Was it really to stop the population from accessing ideas and subversive information that would bring the Communist regime down? No, they were far too clever and more economically-minded than that. They just made the West believe that, while they carefully and methodically built their Great Firewall to protect their domestic internet market. It was a wall not to protect those inside from getting out, but those outside from getting in.

We will all possibly lose out from individual internets, or from being told that we need authorization to cross an ‘internet boarder’ into another country. Will we need passports to travel virtually across the web or will there be a warning that we are entering dangerous territory as soon as we enter the US. But, the commercial side of the advantages might just outweigh the fear of the citizens of countries around the world and also governments that are not willing to complacently allow the spying to continue.

Well done the NSA for making sure that the internet gets Balkanized. Welcome to theSplinternet. It’s not sure we will make gains in the name of freedom and access to information.

Originally posted: Internet or Splinternet

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