Friday, 15 November 2013

Balkanization of the Internet

There have been a number of well-known information security personalities who have been publicly saying that the revelations the capabilities of national governments to undertake wholesale surveillance of the Internet will lead to its Balkanization.  If you believe the hype, the Internet will fragment and become less well connected as we all pull back in fear of everyone else's big brother.

I just don't believe it.  There are two really good reasons why this won't happen.

Firstly, all evidence suggests that we really don't mind about mass surveillance.  In 2006 the United Kingdom was described as being the most surveilled country among the West.  Since 2001 the USA has spent untold billions conducting illegal electronic surveillance on its own citizens, as well as doing its best to have a live packet capture of the entire Internet.  In a Western democracy, if we don't like what the government is doing, we can vote them out.  Not only have we not voted them out, we have year-on-year given them even more power.

This is not to say that these are good things, nor that one day we might say that enough is enough and reel the power back in, but it isn't going to happen in 2014, and may not happen for another generation.

Secondly, the Internet really is trans-national, and outside the control of any one country.  It was originally designed by the technical elite, without any consideration of governance.  It is now run primarily for the benefit of the business elite, who don't want governance as it may get in the way of their business models.  Any attempt to Balkanize the Internet, or set up controlling choke points will be worked around using both technical and business controls.  It is far too late to be trying to set up Internet borders and passport security.

This on the other hand is generally a good thing.  All the repressive regimes on the planet have done everything they can to limit Internet access, and they have universally failed.  The smarter ones have moved back to surveillance rather than control.

Within the next year or so, I strongly predict that the Internet will go through a phase-change from default clear-text to default encrypted, and the state security agencies will wring their hands and weep into their budgets.  But the rest of us will get on with our lives and use the Internet for what it was designed - porn and funny cats.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer

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