With So Many Governments, So Many Rules, Can the Internet Survive?

 


Photo by Chris Yang | Unsplash

Photo by Chris Yang | Unsplash

Farmers in India aren’t happy. For months they have been putting on demonstrations against the Modi government. Fearing laws that favor India’s larger agriculture corporations, tens of thousands of these protestors recently broke through police barricades and stormed the capital’s symbolic Red Fort. Like other major protests against governments, including the January 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol, these Indian farmers coordinated their protests and actions using social media.

Being the largest and most open communication platform in the history of humanity, the Internet – along with social media – has become the largest driver of information both in support of and against the governments of the world. Those said governments have noticed the “against” side of the equation now more than ever. As a result of these protests and attacks, the Modi government of India has threatened to jail local Facebook, Facebook-owned Whatsapp, and Twitter employees if those platforms do not comply with the government’s request on information about these protestors and rioters. India, being the second largest population on the planet and a burgeoning tech market, is ramping up their ability to dictate terms to foreign tech platforms that seek a foothold in its market.

Elsewhere in the world: In Australia, their government voted to require both Facebook and Google to pay news publishers whose content is published on their platforms. Google agreed quickly and Facebook decided to go nuclear and banned all Australian publishers from their platform to avoid paying their fees.

In China, where the internet is heavily censored, American companies Apple, Google, Microsoft, Airbnb, and massive gaming company Blizzard all agreed to censored versions of their various products.  

In European Union member countries, tech platforms must adhere to the privacy-centric GDPR laws that required the ‘Facebooks’ of the world to change how they fundamentally handle data to keep it as private as possible and away from the government’s prying eyes.

In Russia, the government actively requires censorship but also requires tech platforms to turn over data at will otherwise they face being banned from Russia’s internet. In April 2018 they banned messaging platform Telegram for resisting these requirements. Telegram was eventually restored two years later in June of 2020.

At home in the United States, law enforcement has been scouring data from multiple social media platforms like Facebook, Parler, Twitter and others for information on the Capitol rioters, which has led to about 300 arrests so far and counting. In these two specific national cases, both governments have deemed it a necessity to access personal social media information in order to thwart further violence.

Various states have their own versions of privacy laws that Big Tech must contend with. California has its own GDPR called the CCPA. Illinois has a biometric privacy law called the BIPA. New York has SHIELD and on and on.

While no one should deny that privacy and anti-surveillance laws should be in place to protect citizens of any country (we are the most data mined and tracked species since the dawn of time), the utter minefield that Big Tech has to navigate daily really begs the question: Can the internet as we know it survive so many different governments with so many different rules?

About two years ago, I wrote an article about the bifurcation of the internet that is happening between western countries like the United States, EU members, Canada, etc. versus China and its trading partners in their Belt and Road Initiative. In this ongoing case, the world is seeing a censored and controlled internet emerge on one side and a more open and freer (information-wise) Internet on the other.

 

But what happens when the rules and laws of the open internet become so convoluted as data travels from one country to another that it becomes unfeasible to continue sharing? What if every country required taxes on sharing or publishing on tech platforms like Australia just leveled against Facebook and Google? Do these companies now have to run the calculation of revenue loss versus staying in the country? When every country decides to do the same thing, is it even economically viable for Facebook to operate globally?

While I’m the last person who could be called a Facebook apologist, it’s impossible not to recognize this serious issue for all tech platforms. Left unchecked, the governments of the world could essentially and inadvertently kill the open Internet by simply making it unpalatable to operate in their countries from another country.

In that vein, I believe it is time for a global cooperative to standardize rules and laws as it relates to internet operations. While there is no way every country would sign-on (i.e. the China-backed side of the above bifurcation), this standardization would help tech platforms from any member country to understand and adhere to a common set of laws that would help to ensure users are secure and private and the internet remains open for commerce, publication and more.

Imagine if the majority of humans on the planet could come together and agree that the most prolific information sharing platform in history had the following standards:

  1. Data privacy and strong encryption required for all users on any platform.

  2. Anti-surveillance standards for the general public would require a fair legal system to temporarily overrule it in the cases of a possible crime.  

  3. The right to be forgotten for all users on any internet platform.

  4. A requirement for all platforms to adhere to a stringent cybersecurity framework to thwart hacking attempts.

  5. A penalty system for platforms that violate these standards that go beyond a “slap on the wrist” that has actual consequences, such as termination of the platform entirely after repeated violations.

  6. Rules and laws against state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, with sanctions and penalties against a government that engages in these activities.

  7. And more rules as this would be an ever-evolving standard as technology and the internet itself evolves.

This would keep the data-mining platforms like Facebook in line and also give them room to breathe as they would then have to follow the rules of a body that encompasses the United States, the EU, Australia, India, and others. Billions of users would be more secure and private. It’s a win for everyone.

This concept isn’t necessarily novel, either. In 2019, twenty-seven countries signed a joint agreement on what is and is not consi
dered fair play for governments in regards to hacking and surveillance against other governments. Noticeably absent were China and Russia.  

The internet, despite the recent issues of polarization, is still the best platform to share news and information around the world. Let’s make sure it stays that way by not overburdening those platforms that make this happen, all while ensuring they must always have our best interests in mind. Some things in life really do take all of us working together. It’s time for the planet to come together and save the internet from itself.

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