Protect the Internet

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Protect the Internet

No one nation can monopolise or fix the Internet

By John Negroponte (Tech-Talk)

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Published: Tue 20 Aug 2013, 2:57 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 10:50 AM

The Internet as we know it is open, secure and resilient. this is no mistake. It was designed and evolved this way. Due to its open nature, the Internet has gained traction at a fantastic pace and transformed the world by fostering communication and innovation while generating tremendous economic growth. Roughly 2.5 billion people, more than one third of the world’s population, currently use the Internet, and another 2.5 billion individuals are expected to go online by the end of this decade.

But the open Internet that governments, corporations and individuals the world over rely on is under threat. Only concerted moves by the stakeholders can protect its valued openness. The Internet, as it transforms, has become a victim of its own success. the various groups that rely on Internet services – governments, corporations, and individuals of all types and purposes – have different needs. Sometimes these needs overlap, and sometimes they are at odds. However, sovereign governments are increasingly seeking control of their own domestic spheres as well as the flow of data and information between countries and, in doing so, are attacking the openness that represents one of the foundations of the Internet.

Nation-states are increasingly attempting to regulate social, political and economic activity and content in cyberspace and, in many cases, suppress expression they view as threatening. Justifying their actions by claiming to protect children or national security, more than 40 governments have erected restrictions of information, data and knowledge flow on the Internet. Censoring the Internet takes many forms including censorship of opinions (Vietnam, Saudi Arabia); censorship of specific websites or ISPs (Australia, Pakistan, Russia); censorship of specific information (China, Germany); demanding information be taken down (France, Singapore); demanding users’ IP addresses (more than 50 countries); and erecting regulatory barriers to cross-border, information flow (Brunei and Vietnam). More drastically, others including Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia have considered building national computer networks that would tightly control or even sever connections to the global Internet. the ongoing controversy surrounding former US national Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden makes for headline-grabbing news, but obscures these broader global challenges confronting the world’s Internet infrastructure.

There are many possible approaches the US could pursue to address this issue, but one of the most promising, as we argue in a recent Council on Foreign relations taskforce white paper, is mandating that all future trade agreements should include the goal of fostering the free flow of information and data across national borders while protecting intellectual property and developing an interoperable global regulatory framework for respecting the privacy rights of individuals. trade agreements in the past have addressed the free flow of goods, piracy and human rights. the trade agreements of the future should be no different, and some already address this issue. For example, the US Korea Free trade Agreement calls on the two countries to “refrain from imposing or maintaining unnecessary barriers to electronic information flows across borders.” the US has trade agreements with most countries in the world, and these agreements provide an opportunity to promote our values.

US companies and universities remain at the technological cutting edge, and the United States continues to be an important role model. The United States can exert a great deal of influence as a positive model, and US technology companies have already taken the lead. Google, twitter, LinkedIn, Microsoft and other companies now issue transparency reports that detail the number of requests they receive from government law enforcement for data on users around the world. Previous success in areas such as democracy promotion and human rights depended heavily on leadership by example.

The United States does not own the Internet nor is it responsible for fixing or updating it. Indeed, no one nation can fix the Internet, now used by every nation on earth. However, the United States can set high standards in hopes that the rest of the world will follow. The open, global Internet is unlikely to continue to flourish without deliberate action to promote and defend it. Political, economic and technological forces are seeking to splinter the Internet into something that looks more like national networks, with each government controlling its own domestic sphere as well as the flow of data and information among countries. A global Internet increasingly fragmented into national systems is not in the interest of the world or the United States.

John Negroponte (Yale ’60) is a Brady Johnson Distinguished Fellow in Grand Strategy and senior lecturer in international affairs at Yale. He has also held many high level positions in the United States government including a cabinetlevel position as the first Director of National Intelligence under president George W. Bush.© 2013 the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yaleopinion10Views

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