War for the Web
28 04.12

the Internet and Regulation

CISPA is the latest Internet bill to head to congress. After SOPA and PIPA, the response has been muted, but still there. CISPA is problematic, could lead to censorship and undoubtedly gives the government too much control over the Internet.

But here’s the thing. Something like this is probably inevitable.

The arguments for and against SOPA and PIPA were part of a larger context, just like the debate around CISPA. This all comes down to the fundamental question: How are we going to regulate the Internet at large? There are those who would not have it regulated, but this is naive. There are those that would have it heavily regulated (like the MPAA), but this is often a give away to those who have power now by allowing them to build systems that would let them keep it at the expense of others.

Regulation of industry is a fairly common thing. The government regulates most industries. The problem the government faces when trying to regulate the Internet is two-fold. First, it takes a real education to understand how the Internet works well enough to propose regulation. We’re talking systems engineer, Bachelors of Science in network administration plus a masters degree, plus maybe a PhD. I don’t think there’s a single congressperson who fits that bill. The FCC may have some individuals who fit the bill, but they’re generally mistrusted by the legislative establishment, and also (this will be detailed in part two of this two-fold problem) legally they can’t really regulate the Internet effectively. That leaves lobbyists, and frankly while many of them have access to the expertise, you never really know who is paying them to give it, and that can heavily taint the conversation .

The second reason the government faces problems regulating the Internet is: What the hell is the Internet? In 1996, it was classified as a Telecommunications Service. That gave the FCC the ability to regulate it, which they did until 2005, when the FCC decided that it was too busy, and that the Internet should be an Information Service instead so that they wouldn’t have to regulate it. (it’s important to note that this was basically a give-away to the telecoms who own infrastructure, and pretty bad for the American consumer) But this does bring up a fundamental question, we do so much on the Internet, it encompasses so many issues, how can we make it something easily described and easily regulated?

And this brings us back to the problem at hand. Cyber security is a real problem, and we’re not just talking about identity theft here. During the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, hackers originating in Russia used DDOS attacks to bring down the Georgian government’s websites and spread their own propaganda. There have been documented cases of attacks on networked electrical grids both in the United States and worldwide. In 2010, China re-routed a whole boatload of Internet traffic through China for about 18 minutes. This included US Government traffic, and traffic from US businesses. That has huge implications.

Anything connected to the network is vulnerable, so the government has tried to introduce measures to allow them to protect certain entities. These measures will come at a price for average Internet users, people like you and me. The most important thing that we can do now is educate ourselves, make sure we know what we do and how we do it, so that when the time comes we know what access we absolutely need to defend, and we have a better understanding of how to do it.

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