The Internet transcends borders, at least for a while longer

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.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor on

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.

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