The Internet is splintering before our eyes

Not only are the major countries of the world in a battle to control the content available to thier citizens on the Internet (as being witnessed most recently in Russia and China), but they are positioning themselves in the fight over what the Internet will look like in the future. Even that bastion of free speech, America, is not immune from the wars. Some say the recent classification of the Internet as a utility under the guise of net neutrality foreshadows its entrance into the contest for control.

Not only have countries sparked controversy and dissent at home by blocking sites and denying access to their citizens, more and more they are forming alliances – cybersecurity pacts – that more than just creating allies, promote their vision of the global internet.

The US, in pursuing comprehensive trade agreements in two critical regions – Europe (TTIP) and Asia (TTP) – plus separate cyber-treaties with South Korea and the Gulf States has stoked fears inside Beijing and the Kremlin, and prompted those two sometime adversaries to form a cyber alliance, agreeing not to hack each other, and to work jointly to repress technology that can ’’disturb public order or interfere with the affairs of the state.”

In other words, repression. And while some may view the pacts as a symbolic, knee-jerk response to American hegemony, it nonetheless signals that the future of the Internet is not necessarily one of continued openness and freedom.

Countries are making decisions on the fragmenting of the Net based primarily on how they view cyber security, as well as indicating their lack of tolerance for discord. For Russia and China, cybersecurity is synonymous with stifling dissent and controlling the flow of information. For the US and its cyber-allies, it is more about the free flow of ideas which can enhance economic growth.

The difference among the pro-freedom and the pro-repression states has been constant over the past decade -signified by the notable refusal of Russia and China to participate in the 2011 Convention of Cybercrime Treaty, ratified by 45 countries,which sought to streamline international cyber laws.

It is apparent that the dichotomy in approach to internet freedom is simply an extension of each countries’ cultural differences, merely manifesting themselves in cyber space. But the real threat is that the attitude and actions of Russia and China will spill over to other proxy countries of theirs . The one thing that may allow privacy and internet freedom advocates to rest easier is that Russia and China don’t trust each other enough for anyone to think they can forge a meaningful alliance which can harm the advancement of the Internet worldwide.

Yet, that countries are aligning in the name of cyber security is a worrisome trend to users in countries that have the Internet in their cross-hairs. It will be up to the traditionally freedom-favoring nations to pick up the slack.

Stan Ward Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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