Killing the Internet
by Tony Kontzer
If you aren't worried about the preservation of the Internet's frontier spirit, maybe you should be. The Internet--our Internet--is facing a fast-growing array of assaults that threaten to shake it to its core. No, I'm not talking about attacks by hackers and virus-writers. I'm talking about a flurry of efforts to regulate and generally control cyberspace.
By now, most of you have probably read about Sen. Joseph Lieberman's outlandish proposal to effectively put an Internet "kill switch" in the hands of President Obama, just in case there's reason to believe that a cyber-terrorism attack is imminent. The wrong-headedness of giving any one person the power to shut down public networks, thus severing ordinary Americans' ability to communicate, seems like, well, overkill.
Not that Lieberman's Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act is anything new--in fact, if passed, it would be a culmination to nearly a decade of efforts on the part of the federal government to take control of aspects of the Internet. (Those efforts are expertly summarized by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Bob Barr here.)
Also worth considering--but receiving much less attention--is the Federal Communications Commission's consideration of a ruling that would effectively regulate how broadband access is structured and delivered, a move that key broadband players naturally would like to prevent. The FCC's intentions also have come under fire from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which fears such a ruling would hamper the Net's function as a job engine.
Elsewhere on the global network, Beijing this week reacted for the first time to Google's recent campaigning against China's censorship of the Web, issuing rhetoric about not being beholden to the World Trade Organization's guidelines on Internet freedoms. A different approach to control, but control nonetheless.
It may sound silly to put Washington and Beijing in the same bucket, but it's pretty easy to imagine an Internet "kill switch" evolving into the president having the ability to enact isolated censorship of Web content thought to belong to terrorists.
The bottom line is that limiting the Internet's Wild West aura would be a colossal mistake that would be likely to get progressively worse. Control begets more control. And control of the Internet isn't good for anyone--except, of course, those who want to control it.