Internet Governance

The End of the Internet as We Know it?

2014 is the year that the free and open global Internet as we know it could cease to exist. If you think this sounds crazy or over the top, I’m sorry to have to tell you it’s not.

The root of the problem is straightforward: not enough is being done to curtail NSA abuses, and the fact that larger steps haven’t been taken clearly shows that the administration does not understand what’s at stake here. I want to explain what we’re fighting for and what you can do to help us fight. First, though, let me set the scene:

Last Friday, President Obama outlined his proposed changes to NSA policies and procedures at a speech given at the U.S. Department of Justice. In his remarks, the President announced minor tweaks to NSA policies on data collection that were trumpeted as big changes, designed to convince the people of the world that they had no reason to fear NSA invasion of their privacy. Like the last time the President spoke about the NSA, this address was given on a Friday before a holiday weekend — the traditional dumping ground for news which our elected leaders would prefer we ignore. All in all, it was deeply disappointing.

What the world needed to hear from President Obama was that the United States was going to respond to NSA criticism with clarity and transparency about the process of reforming perceived abuses. What do I mean by “clarity”? I mean describing in a clear fashion exactly what the limits of NSA surveillance are. And by “transparency,” I mean full disclosure of the standards by which the NSA justifies its eavesdropping, and the decision process it uses at its spy/no-spy failsafe points.

We also needed to hear the President say he understands that global faith in the United States as a good actor on the Internet stage is broken, and that asking people to “trust the process” was no longer an option. Our confidence needs to be restored and the only way to start that process it is through clarity and transparency — no matter what changes come next.

We didn’t get any of that. The only explanation I can offer is that the U.S. government has no idea what is at risk.

The Internet industry was born in the United States, and — thanks to wise policy decisions in its infancy — it is is the one part of the US economy that has flourished through the economic ups and downs of the last decade. Our digital success story is an American success story, but it’s one that has spread to the furthest corners of the globe. So as the United States loses the trust of entrepreneurs, businesses can, and do, simply move their online operations elsewhere. Net result? Lost jobs. Lost tax revenue. Lost innovation. Lost leadership.

ServInt fights for entrepreneurs who seek to harness the power of the Internet. We specialize in helping them, and providing them the tools they need. They need the free and open global Internet, and the U.S. Government is putting the internet at risk.

Here’s what’s at stake:

There is a huge risk to the global Internet that’s being underreported: the fracturing of its functional, global “root,” and the concomitant risk of countries deciding to build their own private, national Internets — North Korea-style. Let me be clear: I’ve been to Internet governance meetings where Internet policy makers discuss these issues. This risk is very real. Revelations about how the United States has been spying on almost literally everybody in the world have rapidly accelerated these planning discussions. Anything short of restoring world confidence that America believes in warrants and due process will result in a Balkanized digital economy that is not only worse for jobs and innovation, but also worse for effective global online law enforcement. Things aren’t going to be better if we end up with a U.S. Internet, a Chinese Internet, a Russian Internet, an E.U. Internet, and so on.

ServInt is heavily involved in Internet politics. I am one of the founders of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition, an organization that provides a united voice for the thousands of companies that actually build and manage the Internet. We made a big difference when fighting PIPA and SOPA a couple years back, and we have had a tremendous influence in the background on a number of things since. When we launched the organization two years ago, we thought an informed national legislature would be the surest path towards sensible policy.

We still think educating America’s policy makers on how the Internet works is vitally important — but revelations about the NSA and what it’s been doing for the last decade have made our initial strategy seem somewhat quaint, if not outright pollyanna-ish. The fuse on the destruction of the global Internet has been set, and NSA revelations are holding the match dangerously close. Now is the time to fight for real NSA surveillance reform, and we must fight together. Here are some simple facts about the unintended consequences of the NSA’s dangerous over-reaching:

  1. It is damaging the US’s relationship with Europe.
  2. It is hurting small business.
  3. It is making the Internet less safe and secure.

There are a number of important multistakeholder meetings this year, including Brazil’s “Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance.” There are plenty of interests who want more government control of the Internet, and more borders. They are using the NSA surveillance issue as a wedge to get what they want, and are coming into these vital meetings empowered with the knowledge that the most traditionally powerful government advocates of multistakeholderism on the world stage have had their credibility crippled by what their spying agencies have done.

Here is a great overview of what’s coming.

Here’s where ServInt stands: we will fight for reasonable policy on Capitol Hill, we will fight for informed decision making in the courts, and we will fight any ignorant, fear-mongering positions in the policy-making process, to try to help save the free and open global Internet.

As part of this fight, ServInt is going to be participating in Demand Progress’s “The Day We Fight Back” and we encourage you to as well.

We need to save the Internet – to keep it free and open – and the path to doing so is to fight for real NSA reform. Join ServInt in this fight, and don’t accept the half-measures proposed so far as acceptable change.

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