Commentary: Will the Internet of tomorrow become several intranets instead? Geopolitics could be key


Two of Singapore’s top foreign policy figures recently issued stark warnings about the geopolitical outlook.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a recent interview that the current geopolitical landscape reminds him of the situation before World War I, when a series of measures and countermeasures triggered an escalating spiral.

dr Balakrishnan suggested that as a first step, we should make a concerted effort to become better informed and understand the driving forces behind the global changes that are affecting us all.

Veteran diplomat Kishore Mahbubani warned of increased competition between the United States and China at the Singapore Computer Society’s Tech3 forum.

He called on tech companies, which he believes will bear the brunt of escalating US-China competition, to comment on the danger such a clash poses to this key sector.

In the Internet space we see a similar situation where actions and countermeasures could potentially lead to fragmentation of the Internet.

Exacerbated by the by Dr. Balakrishnan and Professor Mahbubani outlined geopolitical trends, the risk of fragmentation of the Internet is becoming more and more real.

WHAT IS INTERNET FRAGMENTATION?

Basically, the fragmentation of the Internet means that the Internet could break up into separate intranets, leading to a fragmentation of the single, global, interoperable Internet that we rely on.

A fragmented internet would threaten the core function of the current internet and the unprecedented ability to seamlessly, securely and instantly connect users and their devices anywhere in the world.

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This means users may no longer be able to connect with their friends and family anywhere in the world.

The Internet also serves as an important tool for education, as information on the Internet is free; but we will quickly lose that as the internet fragments.

ACTIONS AFFECTING INTERNET OPERATION

In recent years, in response to perceived privacy concerns by their citizens, some governments have introduced new rules and regulations that have unintentionally impacted the technical operation of the Internet.

Others, driven by their duty to protect citizens from what they see as harmful information, have blocked access to specific content or much of the global Internet.

Officials in at least 20 countries have suspended internet access, while 21 countries blocked access to social media platforms, according to the Freedom on the Net 2021 project. It’s the continuation of a negative trend: According to the report, global internet freedom has declined for the 11th year in a row.

Against the background of the Russian invasion, Ukraine had asked the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to attack Russia’s access to the Internet by revoking certain country code top-level domains operated from Russia and revoking Arranging SSL certificates issued within these domains and shutting down a subset of root servers in Russia.

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SO THAT THE INTERNET WORKS

But organizations like ICANN were created to make sure the Internet works, not to use its coordinating role to stop it from working.

In our role as the technical coordinator of unique identifiers for the internet, we take steps to ensure that the way the internet works is not politicized and we have no power to sanction.

ICANN, along with other organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), sets technical guidelines and standards to make the Internet work and evolve.

For example, the IETF established thousands of standards that have evolved the Internet to keep up with the times, such as B. the development of the IPv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6) address, when it was realized that IPv4 addresses were not sufficient to provide a unique address to each Internet device.

Such standard-setting organizations are not motivated by politics or profit, but by a shared desire to make the Internet work in a unified and interoperable manner. These organizations invite all interested parties to participate, and every voice is equal and heard.

WANT TO STAY INFORMED AND KNOW

I share dr Balakrishnan’s take on the need for us all to stay informed, as well as Professor Mahbubani’s views on the importance of speaking out.

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Participating in the work of organizations like ICANN and IETF keeps one abreast of how the Internet works and the current issues affecting it. It also enables you to help shape the future of the internet.

Governments can help by encouraging their stakeholders to participate in the development of Internet standards and policies.

Organizations can help by accelerating adoption of the latest standards that make Internet access safer for users.

A good place to learn more about internet governance is the ICANN75 public meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this week (September 17-22).

The meeting will include various sessions to help participants understand how the Internet works. There will also be a discussion on Internet fragmentation. Participation is free for both in-person and remote participants.

We can all help protect the global internet so that the two billion people who remain disconnected can also benefit – because that’s what the internet should do: connect us.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Low Jia Rong is Regional Vice President and Managing Director at Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Asia Pacific.



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