Why You Should be Concerned About Internet Sovereignty?
“Network (Internet) sovereignty is the effort of a governing entity, such as a state, to create boundaries on a network and then exert a form of control, often in the form of law enforcement over such boundaries.” Wikipedia
I’ll start with my conclusion. When digital technology advancement based
on the Internet elevates digital economies and cybersecurity to the pinnacle
of national wealth and security, technological superiority, mainly digital
superiority becomes the core of strategic competition between the U.S. and China. To a lesser extent, China uses both internal censorship of the Internet and its vast reach to project its vision. Cybersecurity concerns cause the United States and China to pull back from the Internet and digital technology interdependence, making both sides vulnerable to the other’s strategic maneuvering.
From the Brookings Institution Democracy and Disorder: Exporting digital authoritarianism: The Russian and Chinese models Alina Polyakova and Chris Meserole
“Beijing’s experience using digital tools for domestic censorship and surveillance has made it the supplier of choice for illiberal regimes looking to deploy their surveillance systems, while Moscow’s lower-cost digital disinformation tools have proven effective in repressing potential opposition at home and undermining democracies abroad.”
They have both leveraged the Internet to diminish human freedom. Russia is, for now, using these repressive techniques more sparingly inside Russia, but the level of noise from the government to cut off western social media rises every day. More importantly, they escalate the export of their models of digital authoritarianism across the globe. Each country has developed tools that enable rising authoritarians to repress potential opposition at home while undermining democracies abroad.
Russia is not in the same league as China in terms of sophistication and reach, the purest surveillance society on the planet. But Russia has a legacy of highly skilled engineering talent, which could emerge in digital freely for twenty years. Still, Putin’s push to smother online free speech started in earnest after the antigovernment protests of 2011 and 2012.
The emerging U.S. Foreign Policy under a new administration is in peril as these two support authoritarian regimes, not with expensive coups and wars, but just through the wire. It’s like the old Roach Hotel, only in reverse: data can check out, but it can’t check in.
Have a look into what China is thinking. March 18, 2021, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, (China) Director Yang, and State Councilor Wang met at the summit in Anchorage, Alaska. Blinken and Sullivan began with pleasantries, including, “Our administration is committed to leading with diplomacy to advance the interests of the United States and to strengthen the rules-based international order (emphasis mine).”
Saying “rules-based” to the Chinese delegation was like a match to gasoline, and it set the tone, and it wasn’t good. Some background: During the 70 years since the end of World War II, the transatlantic alliance was made strong by diplomacy that balanced both interests and principles. It was built on the understanding that rules- and values-based international order was mutually beneficial for all, and it was made possible because of our shared interests, shared history, and shared sacrifices. University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer recently referred to international orders as “an organized group of international institutions,” which he says “are effective rules that the great powers devise and agree to follow.”
Director Yang responded as follows: “What China and the international community follow or uphold is the United Nations-centered international system and the international order underpinned by international law, not what is advocated by a small number of countries of the so-called rules-based international order. And the United States has its style — United States-style democracy — and China has the Chinese-style democracy.”
There is significant hypocrisy here. China pursues rules-based too, but not exclusively. It’s a flashpoint. The meeting went downhill from there.
Let’s unpack this. Why is this a disagreement about a rules-based versus international order? It’s a tactic, not a philosophy. China’s contention that they pursue the “United Nations-centered international system and the international order underpinned by international law” is a thinly-veiled position that they (and Russia) use the sleepy United Nations to push through resolutions that favor them.
What Does This Have To Do With Internet Sovereignty?
First of all, it is a mistake to ascribe a taste for internet sovereignty to only authoritarian regimes. Many western governments have discussed governing which aspects of the Internet may be viewed. In the U.K., age-verification systems are being implemented. It may come as a surprise that the E.U. in Article 13 of the Copyright Law has raised the alarm from digital rights experts because of its likelihood to censor substantial amounts of user content. To overlook how internet sovereignty elements are being rolled out in the U.S. and Europe, it is a murky proposition to characterize how the web is managed worldwide. And with proxy connections and VPNs, bypassing country borders anonymously online is easy.
U.S. foreign policy to spread democracy and stamp out authoritarianism to reduce strife in the world is not entirely altruistic. Global development and peace are suitable for the U.S. too. The Internet is a U.S. invention, maybe the greatest one. An open, secure, and sustainable internet is vital to our national security and an indispensable utility for almost everything we do. U.S. social media giants being cut off from a market like China is troubling for some investors. Still, the prospect of Russia and China continue to make mischief with the Internet in the United Nations, an organization we disparaged for the last four years and which has been indifferent to the U.S. for decades anyway, could example, disrupt or subvert the ICANN. The real danger is how Russia and China will censor the Internet for their population but continue to use the wide-open aspects to pursue their respective agenda.
Digital technology based on the Internet renders cybersecurity the top national security issue for every country. Like water and electricity, the Internet has become a basic necessity of modern life, and national survival is embedded in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity comprises cyber-attack, cyber intelligence, and cyber
defense, which have now become daily procedures. Cyber-attacks occur not only
between governments but also between governments and nongovernmental
organization-backed hacking groups. Therefore, cyber defense has become a daily task of governments and civil institutions. Most digital technologies have ‘dual-use’ risks, namely, commercial technology used for military purposes. The expansion of dual-use digital technology is accelerating, especially in emerging sectors such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and robotics. The range of potential applications is not yet fully understood.
MyTake: “Largely thanks to our efforts, information security has become an item on the U.N. General Assembly’s agenda,” Putin boasted to Russia’s Security Council. “We believe it is necessary to conclude universal international legal agreements designed to prevent conflicts and build a mutually beneficial partnership in the global cyberspace.”
China wrote most of those rules, and “mutually” has a very sinister context.