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CRF Blog » Blog Archive » Net Threats

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Net Threats

by Bill Hayes

The PewResearch Internet Project has produced a report, Net Threats, surveying experts on challenges the Internet will face, specifically nation-state crackdowns, surveillance, and pressures of commercialization. Below is a summary of one of the themes experts elaborated on.

Threat theme 1) Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more blocking, filtering, segmentation, and balkanization of the Internet.

The experts in this survey noted a broad global trend toward regulation of the Internet by regimes that have faced protests and stepped up surveillance of Internet users. They pointed out that nations such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey have blocked Internet access to control information flows when they perceived content as a threat to the current regime. China is known for its “Great Firewall,” seen as Internet censorship by most outsiders, including those in this canvassing.

Some respondents cited the Arab Spring as an example of the power of the Internet to organize political dissent and they then commented on how this prompted crackdowns by governments. Others cited governments’ application of broad rules that limit the exchange of all information in order to try to halt criminal activity.

A notable number of these expert respondents also mentioned Edward Snowden’s revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance of email and phone call records. They also cited such examples as the theft of customer account details from Target and corporate surveillance of consumers as giving ammunition to those who want to crack down on the content that flows online.

Paul Saffo, managing director at Discern Analytics and consulting associate professor at Stanford University, said, “The pressures to balkanize the global Internet will continue and create new uncertainties. Governments will become more skilled at blocking access to unwelcome sites.”

Christopher Wilkinson, a retired European Union official, board member for EURid.eu, and Internet Society leader predicted, “Surveillance … at the minimum chills communications and at the maximum facilitates industrial espionage, it does not have very much to do with security.”

Some participants also predicted that regional differences in politics and culture will continue to spawn efforts to hinder access and sharing online. A professor at Georgetown University and former U.S. Federal Trade Commission official wrote, “Given the global nature of data flows, national parochial interests may prove to be a bottleneck. Already access and sharing are hindered by parochial national laws. The European Union’s privacy initiative can be a serious bottleneck, and the Safe Harbor regime is in jeopardy. Nationalism, and sovereign interests — for good reasons (privacy protection) or bad (economic protectionism)  —  are clear and present threats.”

Dave Burstein, editor of Fast Net News, responded, “Governments worldwide are looking for more power over the Net, especially within their own countries. Britain, for example, has just determined that ISPs block sites the government considers ‘terrorist’ or otherwise dangerous. This will grow. There will usually be ways to circumvent the obstruction but most people won’t bother.”

Paul Jones, a professor at the University of North Carolina and founder of ibiblio.org, responded, “Historic trends are that as a communications medium matures, the control trumps the innovation. This time it will be different. Not without a struggle. Over the next 10 years we will be even more increasingly global and involved. Tech will assist this move in a way that is irreversible. It won’t be a bloodless revolution, sadly, but it will be a revolution nonetheless.”

Kevin Carson, a senior fellow at the Center for a Stateless Society and contributor to the P2P Foundation blog wrote, “There’s a lot of work underway now in developing open-source, interoperable, and encrypted versions of social media, in response to the increasing authoritarianism and state collaboration of existing walled-garden media.”

Jim Hendler, a professor of Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and architect of the Web, wrote, “If anything, it is privacy that will have to give way to openness, not the other way around… Repressive governments will be working hard to stop the spread of information. As today, there will be both good and bad news continually in that area, but over time more integration, access, and sharing will be a driving force.” [more]