The Risk of “Nationalizing” the Internet


Various initiatives that certain governments have implemented not only infringe upon human rights, but also affect the economic development of their countries.

“Some governments use security initiatives as an excuse for surveillance,” warned Oscar Robles, LACNIC’s Executive Director, while participating on a Security and Privacy panel organized during the most recent meeting of the South School on Internet Governance in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He cautioned that much of the personal information collected by governments falls into the hands of hackers due to the weakness of computer data storage security systems.

Robles recognized that while one of the challenges is to focus on the protection of personal data in the hands of companies, at this time the greatest risk to individual privacy on the Internet are government and state programs collecting personal information. “Proactive, mass surveillance exists from which we cannot hide,” Robles stressed.

As an example, LACNIC’s CEO explained that “1.3 billion Chinese citizens cannot renounce their Chinese citizenship in order to protect their identity and freedom of expression (two human rights). Nevertheless, the billion users of any social network can stop using these networks in order to protect our privacy. After all, despite the benefits they bring to people, there is no such thing as the human right to social networks.”

Robles warned that States are using security initiatives as an excuse for their surveillance programs. He added that many of these initiatives sound quite plausible due to the State’s obligation to protect national security and combat child pornography and human trafficking. However, as a result of these programs, “we are all under surveillance and observation and all of our movements are being recorded.”

This results in another problem. The weakness of data storage mechanisms means that, once information is collected, “it remains in the hands of any hacker or cyber-gang which will answer to the highest bidder,” said Robles.

“Nationalizing the Internet” – In his presentation, Robles also discussed a phenomenon occurring in many parts of the world, which is the fact that Human Right number 27 —intellectual property—, in his opinion, infringes upon other more fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and the right to privacy. “Curiously, in certain jurisdictions, intellectual property rights threaten end users, those who cannot complain about poor Internet services because they are using the company’s brand. Property protection is taken to absurd levels and people lose their freedom of expression,” Robles added.

He noted that there are regulations and attempts in place to address government claims of protecting national security as well as to address private interests in the protection of intellectual property that infringe upon human rights. We have all seen some of these efforts in multilateral treaties.

He noted that these attempts are starting to create a fragmented Internet, a phenomenon he calls “Internet nationalization.” “We are beginning to notice advanced efforts to nationalize the Internet in the sense of establishing national borders and hierarchies for the Internet traffic,” he emphasized.

This path involves major risks, as the Internet was born with the fundamental principle of an open network, without hierarchies and without a predetermined path for each message to traverse the network. “Data packets travel along the easiest path. This is one of the fundamental principles of the Internet,” recalled LACNIC’s CEO.

If States are successful in compartmentalizing the network, they will not only affect Internet development and the individual rights of their citizens. “These initiatives will eventually have an impact on the economic development of the countries, as ICTs play a major role in national economies,” warned Robles.

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