It is a safe assumption that if you are reading this post, you like technology. If that’s the case, you understand the tremendous economic, cultural, and human rights benefits that an open, universal, and free Internet provides.
That freedom is under attack.
It is our responsibility as stakeholders in a successful Internet to balance governments and have an open dialogue on the topic. If this issue is not talked about, people will lose faith in the openness and will look to balkanize the Internet.
Our Relationship With The Internet
For many of us, the Internet is a special place. It is a vast wilderness of endless possibilities in which things like commerce, ideas, and knowledge are not limited by geographic borders, constitutional documents, and national currency.
It has become a very public forum in which people share the most intimate and mundane information about their lives.
Some of its infrastructure has yet to catch up with the openness of its ideas, and many Internet standards were built for a different era. The notion of security and privacy wasn’t fully baked into protocols because the original ARPANET was all closed.
Today is a new era of openness and freedom…although not everyone wants this. There’s a gray area of what’s public and what’s open. As an example, Eric Schmidt’s “public” information was made public in 2005 after a few Google searches exposed the openness we will live in.
Years have passed and we’ve become accustomed to accessing open flows, whether it be from Sony in Japan, Ikea in Sweden/Norway, or Apple in the US. National interests have been put aside with relatively few events. We’ve seen the Arab Spring and segmentation of entire countries from the Internet, country-wide blacklisting, registrar domain seizures in the name of fraud, and registry-level domain seizures in the name of drug enforcement.
Freedom vs. Control: Where’s The Balance?
With such openness and freedom comes a loss of control for certain entities. This is why it seems that many governments and nation-state organizations are working double time to regain what they lost. You see this at the ITU, the UN WSIS, and other groups.
Edward Snowden showed us the activities of the National Security Agency, but the US is not the only one. Government agencies the world over are forcing secrecy upon companies hoping those restraints and threats will prevent them from fighting back. In many ways, this is working. The financial cost of challenging these agencies is often too large a burden for the tech giants to deal with, which means smaller companies don’t stand a chance.
Some countries like Brazil are taking it a step further and are suggesting a “private” version of the Internet in the name of national security. However, more nationally controlled Internets are not the answer. They would only add to the problem as they could lead to more repression and lost privacy and security.
Don’t get me wrong: this is a tough debate to get this balance right and there is no one answer. I know there are enemies of the Internet who are using it for nefarious reasons and for the public good; we have to look to our national jurisdictions to help. What we cannot have is a closed debate with a few lawmakers and a few companies. This stuff matters too much.
On a personal note, we have dealt with such an issue first-hand. We once had Wikileaks as a client, but their behavior became such a target that they became a threat to all of our other customers on our shared infrastructure. We had to drop them, and did this for the greater good of our customers.
Governments will try to use similar logic saying that the public good outweighs privacy rights. But as Benjamin Franklin once said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” What is more worrisome is that our elected officials may actually believe in a proper balance, but due to the rise of the administrative government, they may actually be powerless to make things right.
You will not create more security by operating in secrecy. The Internet will become more secure when it becomes more open.
We Must Work Together
We need a cross border, cross-company collective action. We must support movements like Open Source and CopyLeft. We must respect Lavabit. We must promote the works of groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Those with the specialized knowledge should get involved with organizations like ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC), which advises governments and companies alike. We need to bring volume to the discussion. This conversation needs to be between all people, companies and governments. This issue impacts much more than just our bank accounts.
Many of us got involved with technology in the first place because we believed it was a true agent of change. Whereas they once looked toward politics, young people now turn to technology and its connectivity to empower and change their lives. What will they do if the oppressive government they are resisting controls that technology?
Those are the stakes of this moment.