Up until the WikiLeaks hullabaloo, we all thought that internet was international (ok, with obvious american predominance, but still) and a platform for free speech, more so than the other media, if for nothing else than for its ease of access and ease of participation (anyone can have a blog or website on the internet, with zero costs; not everyone can publish an article in the newspapers, a book, or make a TV program or movie; it costs and takes much more time, and is ultimately dependant on the editors/publishers/producers/distributors). And now, it seems, we see the Emperor as it is, in its New Clothes which don’t leave much to imagination – unfortunately.
It all began some time before, in March 2009, with an introduction of the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, presented in the American Senate, that with one provision that “gives the President unfettered authority to shut down Internet traffic in an emergency and disconnect critical infrastructure systems on national security grounds“. Second draft wasn’t improved much, and the final bill, now called Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, was introduced to the US Senate and House of Representatives, now amended to limit the maximum time the (US) President could control the network to 120 days, and is expected to be voted on before the year ends. Supposedly, the US president can close off the US internet from, say, China, or whatever country, but can it really be done? Some of us still remember the Pakistan/YouTube incident from February 2008, when the Pakistani provider, wanting to shut-off the access to YouTube from Pakistan, through a misconfiguration actually blocked the whole of YouTube. Of course, we can protect the network from that kind of error, but it will be something else entirely if someone where to do it intentionally, with the help of the whole internet infrastructure.
And here we come to the WikiLeaks incidents. First they got attacked, then they got booted of the Amazon cloud, then their DNS provider EveryDNS cancelled their DNS records, then PayPal
confiscated froze their account (after Moneybookers did it previously) and Visa and Mastercard stopped processing payments; Twitter is suspected of suppressing the WikiLeaks trend. And all that because of stale news that everyone knew, in the form of not-so-secret and dangerous diplomatic cables, that they didn’t actually steal but had only published. And if you think that all this was court-ordered through due process, with a judge, jury, public prosecutor and a defender – think again. It was enough for a congressman’s staff to call and say (or even insinuate) what needs to be done, and hey, job done! The excuse? WikiLeaks has violated the provider’s Terms of service by supposedly not respecting the Intelectal Property.
a small note: this actually happens a lot more than you think – my former company’s website was attacked with DDoS, and our provider not only didn’t help us find the attackers, but promptly cancelled our account, deleted all our data and wouldn’t let us access the backups. And said we were unfair to the others on the same server, because we have blocked it. This is the equivalent of the judge saying to the rape victim that it’s all her fault because she provoked the rape, that she is forbidden to come out of the house again, to confiscate all her clothes, and to be ashamed of what she’d done. But hey, Terms and Conditions of the contract…
Those who think that couldn’t happen again, or to them, better think again. Internet in its current form is under almost total US domination – most servers and routers performing the basic internet functions are stationed in the US. And almost all the important companies are multinationals but still American: Amazon and the most powerful cloud servers, PayPal, Visa, Mastercard and other payment processing and credit card companies, DNS servers for com, org and net domains… There’s a kill switch for “emergencies” and in the meantime, any dissent can be quickly silenced, even when it’s not your citizen that does it. And we thought “Enemy of the State” was paranoid.
Of course, all this WikiLeaks brouhaha has brought these things out in the open. Hopefully, something can be done now to remedy all these structural problems of the internet and “globalized” economy to become really international. We need other, non-American powerful server clouds, located in Europe, South America and Asia; we need dispersed DNS servers and updated DNS standards, non-American credit card companies and payment processors etc. And not even the educational instutions will help much in that, because even they are dependent on companies and government, sometimes both at the same time. Internet won’t be safe until it’s done.
PS. Note that I didn’t touch upon the seizing of the Assange’s personal accounts in Switzerland, his arrest in the UK because of the charges of rape in Sweden, public calls for his assassination, calls for pronouncing WikiLeaks a terrorist organization, etc. It just goes to show the power of politicians and the state, even when they don’t use the regular state and government institutions. And – different from the above, where it shows how much companies fear the state and want to earn more money through appeasing it – shows how much politicians actually fear for the state(s), thinking it so weak that one NGO publishing so-so news is a legitimate threat to the international diplomacy and world order. Is it really that fragile? Maybe Umberto Eco is right, that this is a blow only for the US:
How can a power hold up if it can’t even keep its own secrets anymore? It is true, as Georg Simmel once remarked, that a real secret is an empty secret (which can never be unearthed); it is also true that anything known about Berlusconi or Merkel’s character is essentially an empty secret, a secret without a secret, because it’s public domain. But to actually reveal, as WikiLeaks has done, that Hillary Clinton’s secrets were empty secrets amounts to taking away all her power. WikiLeaks didn’t do any harm to Sarkozy or Merkel, but did irreparable damage to Clinton and Obama.