Global Net Crackdown to Shatter ‘Utopian’ Internet: Experts Say

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Source: The Sydney Morning Herald – By Ben Grubb

Egypt‘s internet shutdown is just the tip of the iceberg and a global net crackdown is inevitable, leading internet experts say.

(Tim Wu, This photo has been pl...

Tim Wu

Already the US has moved to implement an internet “kill switch“, which would allow the President in a “cyber emergency” to shut down certain parts of the internet it considers “critical infrastructure”, whilst the Australian government has previously sought to crackdown on the internet by censoring “refused classification” material.

Speaking to this website, Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School and author of The Master Switch, said the days of a utopian internet were numbered.

He said Egypt had proven how it was possible to shut out its citizens from the net and that we should expect other governments to begin clamping down on it.

“[The internet is] probably going to go – unless something happens – towards a future more like other media, which is more closed and more controlled unless there is an uprising,” he said when asked about the future of the internet in an interview with this website. “And I think Egypt, I think the kill switch Act [and] I think some of the Australian proposals are going all in that direction.”

There was a tendency, he said, for media to start open and then become closed. “Early stages of them are often very utopian, open, competitive – they [then] tend to evolve towards a more monopolised and sometimes government-controlled state and I believe the internet is going in that direction”.

It was “possible to avert” but “if history is any guide, that is where we are going”.

One of Australia’s top communications experts, University of Sydney associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt, agreed.

“To some extent all governments want to retain control of all societal functions and the internet is no different than any other kind of infrastructure and vital infrastructure that we have,” he said. “So I think it is natural for governments to look in that direction”.

But he said that the internet should not be seen as having the “same fundamental prerequisites or structure as … radio and TV because it is a true, borderless international instrument which has to deal with a certain degree of local legislation and ruling as well as international convention”.

Anti-censorship campaigner Irene Graham, who runs the website, which tracks the state of censorship in Australia, said governments cracking down on the internet depended on “what the state of democracy is in a particular country”.

Graham didn’t believe, however, that Australia’s internet would become as regulated as suggested by Wu because government here was “paying a lot more attention to public opinion than what occurs in other types of countries”, referring to the federal government relegating its net filter plan to “review after review”.

Asked this week whether the Australian government could shut down the internet in this country or implement “kill switch” legislation similar to the US, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said he did not believe this was possible.

“Australia’s a vibrant democracy, where the government doesn’t control the internet,” he said, seemingly ignoring his own government’s internet filtering plan.

“I don’t think we have any of these powers — that we could pass a law to make ISP services turn off when we want them to? I don’t think we have that power now, and I don’t think anyone’s seeking it.”

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