The Internet transcends borders, at least for a while longer

The Internet transcends borders, at least for a while longer

Summary: Make no mistake, the forces of darkness will be back. We The Internet will be waiting for them. This is our playing field, our rules. Our Internet.


For the past week or so, we've watched the typical diplomatic dance between nations at the WCIT deliberations in Dubai. But one thing isn't typical: borders blur when the Internet is involved.

That, in fact, is the core of what has had everyone so up in arms. It used to be, in the days before the Internet, that nations with different ideologies could (at least pretty much) keep those ideologies within their borders.

If oppressive and authoritarian nations wanted to be oppressive and authoritarian, they could -- and, short of revolution, their people didn't have much recourse. If freedom-loving nations wanted to have a free and open dialog among their citizens -- even to the point of allowing their press to openly criticize and mock their officials (something I do on nearly a weekly basis) -- it was possible, too.

In this world of borders, it was possible to negotiate treaties where the bad nations (dare I call them evil empires?) could be bad in their own geography, and the good and right nations could be good and right within their own geography.

But then came the Internet and geography became obsolete. Two people could connect with each other as if they were across the room, even though they were across the globe. Entire populations could communicate at light speed, in private, and coordinate their activities, both amongst themselves, and across national boundaries.

For freedom-loving people and nations, this was the natural and desirable evolution of the Internet. It was why the Internet was the Internet. This communication freedom gave the Internet such power that it has transformed all aspects of our existence -- politically, economically, and personally.

But, for oppressive and authoritarian regimes, nations who craved controlling their population, nations who couldn't or wouldn't tolerate the messy chaos we lovingly call democracy, the Internet became a threat. It became a living symbol of the limits of their control, and a tool for their citizenry to see beyond their borders, beyond their ideologies, beyond their limitations, and beyond their oppressed lives. It became a tool for their citizens to become part of the global community -- even as their governments continue to abhor the very globalness and openness that We The Internet cherish so very much.

For the Internet isn't about control. It isn't about censorship. It's about freedom and discourse and kitten videos. It's as insanely powerful as it is intemperately ridiculous.

To nations who exist to control their populace, the Internet is a Wild West of chaos and disruption. Powerful, yes, but power that -- in the minds of their leaders -- should reside in the hands of the leadership, not the citizenry.

And that brings us to the United Nations, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and the WCIT conference. For here, the oppressive and authoritarian nations saw an opportunity to wrest control of the Internet from We The Internet and put it in the hands of governments who would have a greater say over what was sent across the pipes and who the pipes connected to.

Fortunately, this chapter of the fight seems to have been won by the forces of light and right. Russia has backed down on their authoritarian proposals, although the United Arab Emirates has still not given up on their attempt to cage the net.

Make no mistake, the forces of darkness will be back. We The Internet will be waiting for them. This is our playing field, our rules. Our Internet.

Topics: Security, Government, Privacy


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • By the way

    What's with your picture?
  • What can I say?

    The camera, it loves me!
    David Gewirtz
    • Interesting

      Nothing like I ever found before!
  • Interesting

    as Roger said I'm stunned that any body can profit $5637 in one month on the computer. have you seen this website
    Alex Pointing
  • What about?...

    Now what about the anti-piracy routers that will monitor all transmissions in search for wrong doing? begins in January 2013 and is run by corporations; not the government. According to the articles I've read they can be judge, jury and executioner all in one. So it's illegal to tap a phone without a warrant and then only by law enforcement; however, it's NOT illegal to do the same thing via the Internet? I haven't seen much attention drawn to this. Don't worry though proving a false positive wrong will only cost you $35.00 for each review by none other than another private company! So, the violations of privacy and rights on the Internet is under attack here at home as well.
    James Boelter
    • Cisco' back track instructions

      Here's the URL for Cisco's "easy" 15 step for rolling the router back.

      Personally, I just want my router to connect the household computers to each other and the internet. I don't want it spying on me, calling home, or any other added feature.
    • Sigh. You do realize that the anti-piracy routers

      are the result of government mandates, that these corporations are regulated by the government, that the government knows what they are doing, and that the government approves. It never ceases to amaze me at just how successful the government propaganda has been in painting government, the entity with all the power, as innocent victim to a corporation, which is totally powerless before a government, for all your loss of freedom.
      • Right

        Corporate execs are all enlightened captains of industry totally dedicated to profit maximization (which can only be done by faithfully serving the public interest), and therefore absolutely trustworthy (unreliable ones are instantly fired).

        What is your opinion of former corporate execs who hold elective office?
        John L. Ries
        • In general

          All things being equal...higher than unacountable bloggers since their names are known and their personal information is generally on record so you have a fair shot of understanding where they are coming from and can hold them to task for what they say or do....more than can be said for many of us out here all but nameless on the internet.
        • We the people, hold those business executives accountable every day,

          and a lot more closely than we can the government officials.

          Businesses might want to do unto us, but we punish them directly, without having to wait for years until elections, and we hold those execs accountable for every thing they do, and we do it via our purchasing decisions.

          When it comes to government officials, as individuals and as groups, we don't really know what they're up to until it's too late. As an example, the people didn't really get a voice on what the "Affordable" health care laws would look like, and we were told that, the bill needed to pass before we could get to find out what was in it. If that bill had been put out on the internet before passage, the people would have destroyed every single paragraph in it. To boot, only one argument was allowed to be heard for the contents of the bill, and that was evident by the one-sided passage of the bill, where only democrats voted to pass it, without a single republican vote. That is "taxation" and control without representation. To wit, most people in the country were against the bill, including democrats and republicans, but, the people in government always feel that, the little people aren't smart enough to be trusted to do the right thing, so, they did the whole plan until it was already too late. Is that the kind of people you want to trust with the internet? Are they really more trustworthy than a businessperson who could be "fired" by the people if they screw up, without having to wait 4 years?
    • The circle of control

      The big media corporations control Congress. They tell Congress to pass a law requiring these routers for monitoring for piracy because they are losing imaginary billions to piracy. A fact that has been proven to be untrue countless times, but Congress still uses it as their excuse for passing the laws Big Media asks them to pass. Then, once it's law, the Big Media companies use their organizations to police the Internet under the disclaimer that it's required by law. (A law they paid Congress to pass.)

      In reality, the entire farce begins and ends with Big Media. They are the ones using their record profits every year to legislate fortifications for a business model which no longer works. It's the few greedy a-holes at the helm of Big Media who can't figure out how to continue getting rich off of the labors of others, in this new era of free-distribution. They're rich old dinosaurs who are passing laws to force you to continue doing things in a way which makes no modern sense. If the government wasn't in their pockets, they'd probably be pursued as the bosses of a form of modern organized crime. Instead, they are given powers stronger than the police and allowed to victimize the innocent with no supervision and no punishment for abuses.
  • the UN is next...

    Eventually we need to take this battle to the UN. We need to practice democracy if we believe in it. Pretending that dictators represent preople is not a benign activity but rather encourages tyranny.

    • Democracy is useless to a people

      who don't want freedom. And most peoples of the world today don't want to be free. They want to be cared for, and they'll happily vote real freedom away in exchange for a chicken in every pot/universal healthcare/extended welfare benefits/guaranteed job/ etc.
      • So what is your solution?

        How can you free this or any other country if most of the people have no real interest in freedom?

        Freedom for whom?
        Freedom to do what?
        John L. Ries
        • Freedom is a mad dream

          Get real... your freedom is a myth that degenerates into chaos known as criminality and total anarchy. Stop listening to your old citizen smith rubbish, stop smoking dope and get real. I want some order and we in the west are doing reasonably OK, though there are obviously dark forces in the shape of criminals, paedos, and other unsavoury folk out there. Not to mention terrorists. I don't mind all you lot getting your own state and putting up with each other but count me out. As for the over oppressive states.. too bad; aint my problem, aint my fight. If they don't like it they can fight it or move.

          The internet was created by telco's with their money. You're all nuts if you think you adding a router has ANY significance or benefit to the world. Get in the real world please.
          • The Internet was created by the US-DOD...

            ...which subsequently let private networks in. But it's possible you're being sarcastic.
            John L. Ries
        • People do want freedom, but, they will sacrifice that freedom in order to

          vote themselves free stuff from the government.

          If they could have both, they would choose both, but, they really aren't given that choice at election time. You get to choose between those who offer you the most stuff, or those who won't offer you as much and will protect your rights. The people have been choosing the propel who offer them the most handouts. And with more and more people becoming dependent upon government, the "free stuff" candidates have been winning, and the country ends up turning to crap.
      • RE: Democracy is useless to a people

        I think you're confusing socialism with totalitarianism. You can have a government that's heavy on supplying services via high taxation that's still a democracy. Look at Germany or Sweden. I don't personaly want that, but I don't think those who do necessarily "don't want freedom".
        • De facto slavery.

          Socialism is simply totalitarianism by another name. And history has consistently shown that over time it always trends more hard-core. You cite Germany and Sweden...well, you may want to look at what freedoms are no longer allowed the people of those nations, and look at historical parallels. Germans are not allowed to home-school their children, for example -- the reason given being that those children may end up being taught wrong ideologies. I think you can translate that for yourself quite readily: they may grow up not indoctrinated by the curriculum that the government wants taught. How could they, of all nations, have forgotten so quickly?!? H*tler targeted the youth too, in schools and in his youth programs. Whenever government starts mandating across-the-board out! And, this (mandatory nationwide curriculum) is coming to the U.S. soon too -- read about it on wnd dot com. Governments that become socialist never are satisfied to leave the power to move away from socialism to the people -- that would remove their power. They almost always end up totalitarian. We are now controlled by the myriad of regulations, by the IRS and tax laws, zoning, need for permits for anything A-Z, and the indoctrination of our children in the pubic schools. They give us supposed choices in elections, while the machinery is in place to ensure that whomever wins, the nature of the system does not change...the master remains in place unscathed.
          • RE: De facto slavery.

            Like I said, I don't want to live in a socialist country. The key point in all this is whether or not it's a democracy. And the CORE criteria for a democracy is that the people get to vote for their leaders. After that any deficits of their government are ultimately the fault of the people.

            "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." -- Henry Louis Mencken