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12.7: Control

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    The issue of internet control has recently come to the fore, chiefly due to revelations in documents leaked by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden in 2013. The documents showed the extent of the United States’ intelligence capabilities in cyberspace, many of which were predicated on the fact that most internet traffic originates from, terminates in, or transits through servers based within America. This of course gives the United States a huge advantage, as it enjoys unprecedented access to the flow of information on the internet. Recognising this disparity, and also reacting to alleged infringements of their own citizens’ rights, several countries have called strongly for the nationalisation of the internet. By this they mean moving to a model in which countries ensure data stays within their own borders. Where this is not possible, data should be handled in accordance with the law of its origin state, backed up by an international governance framework. Though this could redress the imbalance of power, it also has the potential to Balkanise the internet. Many of the benefits of the internet rely on the technology being uniformly functioning and accessible across disparate geographical areas. A Balkanised internet would inevitably produce a range of operating standards that might well be difficult to integrate. China is an example of a country that does operate a national internet policy, although for different reasons to those expressed above. Through the ‘Great Firewall’, the Chinese government blocks access to sources of uncensored information such as foreign news outlets and prominent websites like Facebook, Google and Wikipedia. The full benefits of the internet are clearly not available to the bulk of Chinese users, showing how control of the technology can be a powerful tool for controlling a population.

    12.7: Control is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Stephen McGlinchey, Rosie WAters & Christian Scheinpflug.

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