Information wants to be free, man!
So says Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks geeks. Info wants to be free! The internet is free! Don’t police it!
It’s a nice idea, isn’t it? The internet being the last place on earth that is unpoliced.
Well, that may be about to go away. Thanks to the rising spectre of cyber terrorism, we may soon see some form of Internet Police.
At the beginning of this month, some big shots gathered in London to discuss ideas about “greater cooperation” on cyber security. Said William Hague, the Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom, “In the place of today’s cyber free-for-all, we need rules of the road.”
He set out some guiding principles for “the rules of the road”: governments to act proportionately in cyberspace and in accordance with international law; protection of freedom of expression; respect for privacy and copyright; and proposed joint action against criminals acting online.
An online, cross-border FBI of sorts.
The United States agreed with Hague’s proposals.
Which isn’t to say we’re anywhere near the establishment of an Internet Police.
For instance, some countries don’t think than an open internet is good – not because of terrorism, but because it brings in pernicious ideas about freedom. In September, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan proposed to the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki Moon an International Code of Conduct for Information Security, which I doubt countries like the US and the UK (and hopefully ours) would want to sign into law.
The International Code of Conduct for Information Security ominously calls on states to curb the dissemination of information that undermines other countries’ political, economic and social stability, as well as their spiritual and cultural environment. Yes, it’s 1984 all right.
If that’s all there was to it, we wouldn’t have much to worry about. A lot of countries still can’t even agree where their national borders run. Imagine them trying to rein in the internet.
However, all it would take for some sort of global cooperation is one, massive cyber attack perpetuated by a terrorist group.
Sky News asked Eugene Kaspersky, the Russian maths genius who founded the internet security empire, how seriously he took the threat of a massive cyber attack.
“I don’t want to speak about it. I don’t even want to think about it,” he responded. “But we are close, very close, to cyber terrorism. Perhaps already the criminals have sold their skills to the terrorists – and then… Oh, God. There is already cyber espionage, cyber crime and hacktivisim – soon we will be facing cyber terrorism.”
Kaspersky thinks the threat of cyber 9/11 is real. I think the possibilities of a massive curb on the craziness of the internet would be very real after that. Look at the shit we accepted after 9/11 at airports.
Of what nature the looming threat poses isn’t clear. Nobody predicted that some really angry young men would drive three planes into three buildings in 2001. The cyber attack could be something like someone managing to wipe out all the numbers that represented the New York Stock Exchange. Or maybe someone will manage to get into a delicate bit of infrastructure, like in Die Hard 4, or a transport attack, like John Travolta did in The Taking of Pelham 123.
What the internet will look like after that is anyone’s guess. I don’t imagine places like the /b board on 4chan would exist for much longer after that. But that’s just a guess.
I’m not too worried, of course. As long as Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy doesn’t touch Animals Talking in All Caps, I’m happy.
Of course, there’s a more commercial reason why the internet might some day be a lot more restricted than it is today. Just look at what Steve Jobs did to the notion of downloading content off the internet. But that’s a column for another day.
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