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    The World Wants to Break Up with America's Internet

    Written by

    Fruzsina Eördögh


    This map shows the average Internet usage of the observed nodes over a 24-hour period. Read more about it here

    Thanks to this year's NSA revelations, the world wants to break up with the United States’ internet. The only problem? It's not sure how to.

    Last week, global Internet organizations met in Uruguay—which so happens to be leading South America in Internet penetration—and pledged to untangle themselves from North American influence. While they didn’t come right out and explicitly name Snowden and his leaks about the NSA’s surveillance program, or even the United states, their released statement “expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance.”  

    Naturally, that's referring to Snowden's leaks about NSA activities. Now, privacy concerns are already leading to a shift in the way the interenet operates. The US has traditionally been the world's leader in internet infrastructure, partly because it's been the center of innovation, and partly because, as TechCrunch wrote, our free speech laws “are perhaps the most ironclad of any."

    It's become apparent that despite our free speech protections, the US internet is both heavily controlled—see the ongoing copyright battles—and surveilled. Domestically, those revelations are already having an impact. At least three secure email services have already shut down, and the eventual blowback to US tech companies in terms of lost business has been pegged at tens of billions of dollars.

    Now the chilling effects of the NSA's broad spying activities are spreading internationally. Directors of all major Internet organizations were present at the Uruguay meeting, including the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Architecture Board, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and the Internet Society. Another portion of their released statement asked to accelerate “the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.”

    Note that "equal footing" doesn't exactly mean the US is getting cut out of the web, which would be pretty much impossible. ICANN and IANA are both US-based organizations that were originally created to do Internet-related tasks for the government, like create and distribute IP addresses. The United States created the Internet, more or less owns it, and has expressed no interest in giving up that control. The only way to break up with the American Internet right now is to completely disconnect from it—and no one wants to do that. 

    But according to Internet Governancea day after the meeting, the ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chehadi met with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, asking her to "elevate her leadership to a new level, to ensure that we can all get together around a new model of governance in which all are equal.”  Keep in mind here that Chehadi was appointed by the US government, who has remained silent on this matter.

    It is no coincidence Brazil will be hosting the next Internet Governance Summit; President Rousseff has been very vocal in criticizing the US’s surveillance program and has expressed interest in building their own Internet.

    Can it be done, though? Building an internet without the US, aka data centers and undersea cables, would take a massive amount of time and resources and as Motherboard’s Meghan Neal pointed out, it will also require users to stop using sites associated with Google (including YouTube), Apple and Facebook. That isn’t to say no country is trying; Germany wants to keep all Internet traffic on local servers so they can’t be spied on by the NSA, but that’s not really a “German internet” free from the US. 

    Without a feasible alternative on the horizon the released statement by the Internet's core institutions is just a statement of intent, a protest song and dance indicative of a messy break-up that could last for years and years. 

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    More on the NSA revelations:

    Inside the Effort to Crowdfund NSA-Proof Email and Chat Services

    The MOTHERBOARD Guide to Avoiding the NSA

    NSA Director Keith Alexander WIll Step Down from the World's Most Powerful Intelligence Job