Opposite to popular belief, the Internet is not a stateless entity. Rather, the United States owns it and controls it. However, this governance’s lawful foundation is rather shaky.
In the event of a major international trade conflict, the Internet might be split into two (or more) fragments. This scenario is known informally as “The Splinternet.” Can your business be able to stay afloat?
The ‘Never-Was’ Cyberspace
In 1996, Internet activist John Perry Barlow publicized a widely circulated essay titled “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” – a misinformed, foolish, and ignorant view of how the Internet operates. Barlow presented himself as a citizen (netizen) of “Cyberspace, the new home of Mind,” and he urged the “Governments of the Industrial World,” the “tired giants of flesh and steel,” to leave the Internet alone since governments “have no sovereignty where we meet.”
He was mistaken. Governments have always had dominion over the Internet.
When he penned this manifesto, the US government directly oversaw the Internet through the National Science Foundation. However, the federal government did sell itself of this ownership. In 1998, Internet governance was passed to a special institution known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
Because ICANN is established in California, USA, it is clear that Washington DC federal government, and the state government in Sacramento, California, have authority over its operations. Furthermore, George W. Bush, the then-President of the United States, personally appointed the first board of directors.
While the US government no longer nominates the ICANN board, it remains a US-based corporation. A memo (memorandum0 of understanding (MoU) between ICANN and the United States Department of Commerce serves as the legal foundation for its operation.
This is not a Congress act, not even a presidential administrative order. It’s a memorandum of understanding that can be changed overnight in case of any, well, misconception.
To summarise, the Internet is governed by a body created by the US government. The US government incorporates it under California law. The US government appointed its first panel, and while the government has declared ICANN free of oversight in 2016, there are no legal protections in place protecting this freedom.
Is it time to Say Goodbye to Pax Americana?
You shouldn’t have to be anti-American to question whether this is the correct approach to administer a network that was designed to be global, free, and open to all. Indeed, the existing state of affairs has been harshly criticized from the start.
Another concern for an entrepreneur is,
- “What becomes to my business if some country claims its independence, but this time for real?”. The government might fail to acknowledge ICANN’s administration and declare its cyberspace independent of US influence.
This scenario appeared unimaginable in the 1990s. Then, the United States had just won the Cold War. Pax Americana seemed to be unquestionably legitimate, permanent, and invincible.
Even in the last century, the Chinese were the only government that took network sovereignty seriously.
The Chinese Internet is safeguarded by a combination of a regulatory framework and a hardware and routing protocol: known as “The Great Firewall” and in China as “The Golden Shield.”
The Chinese method was regarded as an outlier in a globalizing world back in the day. According to popular belief, China was meant to open its Internet while becoming more economically linked with the democratic world.
In actuality, the inverse occurred. As a result, many countries are considering following China’s lead.
The Russian Duma enacted a new law in April 2019 requiring the government to prepare the country for Runet’s complete independence (Russian cyberspace). The bill designated January 1st, 2021, as the timeframe. On the other hand, Russian officials had previously boasted of a “successful test” of a country-wide Internet separation in December 2019.
Many other countries appear to be following China and Russia’s lead. Islamic countries are dissatisfied with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANNlaissez-fair ) ‘s stance on pornography and its refusal to develop top-level domains such as “.islam” or “.halal.” On their own, they have already banned major pornographic websites.
Due to the ongoing conflict in Crimea and Donbas, Ukraine banned many famous Russian web applications in 2017. Furthermore, Ukraine Government extended this prohibition in September 2020 to Russian iOS applications, which are no longer accessible on the Ukrainian App Store.
Following border conflicts with China in June 2020, India blocked around 200 Chinese applications and services, including TikTok. Donald Trump declared his plan to prohibit using two popular Chinese assistance in the United States. As of this writing, the legitimacy of this step is being challenged in California courts.
Would You be able to Survive the Splinternet?
What does this mean for a business person? First, if your firm relies on the Internet (and you must be in a very unusual line of work if you don’t require email, online banking, or a website), you may one day find yourself locked out due to politics.
What happens if China, Russia, and Islamic countries claim independence from ICANN and anything else administered by a US-based institution? Unfortunately, this may not even be their choice; they may be barred from entering due to an administrative order issued by the President of the United States.
If you live in Russia or China and trust your government, the main services (banking, email, etc.) should continue to function normally. That’s what they say, at least.
If you live in the European Union, though, the only honest answer is: nobody knows. You had not tested it.
The issue of “digital sovereignty” was not taken seriously in democratic countries five or more years ago. Even the Snowden scandal did not serve as a wake-up call; it was treated as another Cold War spy drama.
Will your firm fall offline if China (or Russia, Turkey, India, etc.) goes offline? This could be a million-dollar question for your company. And it may happen tomorrow for certain leaders if they have a nice Twitter meltdown.
In certain circumstances, the solution is straightforward. If you are a TikTok content creator, you should consider using another site as a backup. Inform your current admirers of where they may find you if TikTok goes down in their country.
Most of the time, it is mind-bogglingly intricate. For example, if you run a serious business, you are most likely employing a cloud service provider. Did you inquire about their catastrophe recovery plans? What happens to your data if there is a war, a coup, the Internet splits into two (or more) networks, or an asteroid hits Earth?
If your cloud provider refuses to provide clear answers, it’s time to move. Seriously. The industry’s heavyweights, such as the Big Four: Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and IBM, are eager to discuss any crisis scenarios.
Microsoft Azure, for example, has an intriguing strategy of regional pairing the “primary region” with a “disaster recovery region.” For example, assume you have a business in Paris. As a result, your territory is “France Central,” while your catastrophe recovery region is “France South.”
No matter what occurs in France, there will be no hard border between Paris and Marseilles. Unfortunately, we cannot be certain of Dublin and Belfast, or even London and Glasgow, but “France South” appears to be a plausible backup location for “France Central.”
As a result, even if the Internet fragments, your data will most likely remain in one piece if you use Microsoft Azure.
Select your Doomsday Scenario
Of course, the other “big four” corporations have their own BCDR (“business continuity and disaster recovery”) solutions that may be suitable for your specific requirements. The Azure combination is provided as an example.
Various companies provide cloud testing, audits, and service comparisons.
Gartner, the legendary research and advisory firm, has lately begun to produce their study on “Cloud Infrastructure & Platform Services.” Depending on the size of your business, you should either download the available report (in a nutshell, Amazon Web Services receives the highest overall ranking) or order a custom report tailored to your specific needs.
Stress tests could also be performed by your own in-house IT specialists utilizing publicly available tools. Some are even free and can be used to answer queries like “how safe is my operation if I suddenly lose connectivity with a specific country?” However, IT security firms will run a custom check particularly for you.
Lastly, many countries created their state-backed cloud services, which are guaranteed to work locally even if the rest of the world is unavailable. For example, this service is properly named “MeghRaj” (GI Cloud) in India.
If such a service is accessible in your nation, you should think about using it for critical backups. Then, if the rest of the world shuts down your country, at least you’ll be open for business.