May 25, 2012

The Balkanisation of the Internet

Attempts at Internet regulation stem from a desire to retain the traditional power structures of nation-states.

Attempts at Internet regulation stem from a desire to retain the traditional power structures of nation-states., claims that it is happening in Iran and the U.S. is only a few steps behind.12 Dvorak urges us to watch over the next few years as the idea of a national Internet will evolve from a tool, used today by undemocratic countries to suppress opposition and to restrict free speech, to a good idea that is no longer rejected by democratic countries, while tighter control will become to be perceived as a new and innovative solution.
Governments that have relinquished most of their control over free speech and have thereby compromised security, undermined the legitimacy of the authorities and decreased their possibilities to unite people under a common cause exhibit to a certain extent nostalgic tendencies about the golden era of the modern state. Today, the limits of freedom of speech and the significance of a piece of information are not defined by Merkel and Sarkozy, but by Google and Facebook. It is not governments, but owners of search engines and social networks who can guarantee that, for example, the truth about the Armenian genocide according to the strict letter of the law be distributed via Internet pipelines in France. Similarly, it is for Google to decide to which extent to accommodate the ever increasing requests by the German government to remove material, for example, from search engine or YouTube, or to disclose user information. During the first half of 2011, 86% of requests to remove content and 66% of inquiries about users were considered to be legitimate and therefore granted by Google.
Even the US government could not stop stolen diplomatic memos from being distributed via Wikileaks! Similarly, the United States had to admit its defeat in the propaganda battle over gaining popular support for PIPA and SOPA. It was Wikipedia that shaped public opinion on this issue all over the world with its decision to protest against these bills by shutting down its websites for 24 hours and by displaying the following message instead: “Imagine a world without free knowledge.”
It is paradoxical that globalisation and global information freedom have intensified the processes targeted against them, making a shift towards the Balkanisation of the Internet a real possibility. Slogans defending freedom of speech or safeguarding security can be used to ‘sell’ the idea of a national intranet, or at least tighter government control over the Internet, to the people who live in democratic countries. And in authoritarian countries no one bothers to consult the people anyway.
1 G. Sí¸rensen, The Transformation of the State: Beyond the Myth of Retreat, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004.
2 D. Rodrik, The Nation-State Reborn,….
3 Freedom House, Leaping over the Firewall: A Review of Censorship Circumvention Tools,….
4 “Internet Freedom Essential to Peace, Prosperity, Clinton Says,” IIP Digital, February 15, 2011,….
5 Demonstrations were also held in Estonia against joining ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement). (Ed.)
6 “Aleksei Kelli: netist allalaadimine oma tarbeks peaks jääma lubatuks [Aleksei Kelli: Downloading from the Internet for Personal Use Should Continue to Be Permitted],” Postimees, March 22, 2012,….
7 Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said on February 9, 2012, that anyone who believed ACTA would mean the end of agriculture “had eaten seeds, and not the kinds of seeds that we sow on our fields. […] Usually, in such cases, if people have such suspicions, putting foil inside their hats might help from time to time.” ACTA opponents seized on the allusion, putting foil outside their hats.…. (Trans.)
8 SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (PROTECT IP Act or Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) – proposed laws to ban online piracy and to protect intellectual property in the United States. (Ed.)
9 A. Sinisalu, Mõjutustegevuse piirid rahvusvahelises õiguses [Restrictions to Subversive Leverage in International Law], Tartu Ülikooli õigusteaduskond, 2012, p. 20,
10 F. Fassihi, “Iran Mounts New Web Crackdown,” The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2012,….
11 “Iran to Start First Phase of Domestic Internet by May, Fars Says,” Bloomberg,….
12 John C. Dvorak, “Here Comes the National Internet,”, January 6, 2012,,2817,2398527,00.asp.

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