Government Control of the Internet

Should the government control the internet? This is a question asked by many concerned about the growing evils taking root on the internet. From computer viruses to Islamic radicals plotting their next evil attack, the internet has proved a powerful platform for evil to spread quickly and effortlessly —even inexpensively. The internet is both the time and cost effective way (email is free) to send hundreds of emails spreading Islamic hate or pornographic spam to millions of inboxes all around the world. The internet is a powerful tool that has been employed for evil uses ever since it’s creation. To some, government oversight would eliminate the majority of the evils currently plaguing the internet. However, there are several issues to be addressed before government administration of the internet can be realized.

For one, the internet is not a centralized system. The internet is a global network that links millions of smaller networks and it is for this reason, the internet cannot be pinpointed to one location. The internet reaches across national boundaries and therefore, no one nation can impose laws on the entire internet. Many countries have attempted to enforce laws on segments of the internet that are transmitting from their shores and have even attempted to block connections from foreign websites that violate local laws.

An example of this tactic in use can be found in the story of the infamous bit torrent tracker, The Pirate Bay. The Pirate Bay, or TPB website encourages illegal file sharing by compiling a list of bit torrents for users to download. TPB is a powerful search engine devoted to pirated media (including movies, music, broadcast television, software, serial numbers, and even porn). Many countries have attempted to block The Pirate Bay from their citizens. All such attempts have failed miserably since the internet is comparable to a spider’s web. Blocking one connection simply means that The Pirate Bay will rerouted through another therefore, blocking a website is virtually impossible. The only way to shut down a website is to physically confiscate and arrest those responsible for it. This is only possible when the violators live within a country’s borders; outside of this, a government can do little to nothing.

Since the internet does not fall under one nation’s jurisdiction, in October of 2005 the United Nations (UN) considered taking complete control of the internet. The United States was against this solution finding UN administration unnecessary and would most likely prove ineffective. The UN would most likely move to slowly to keep up with the rapid changes in our quickly evolving virtual world. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has currently proved to be very flexible to adapt to the rapid changes occurring on the internet. The United States wishes to leave the power of governing the internet in the hands of ICANN believing that UN administration would not live up to ICANN’s standards.

A good question to ask, if the UN did end up governing the internet, would this be an ethical solution? Would this even be a practical solution? Everyone has a right to share information and exchange ideas, or at least this is America’s philosophy which is not shared by every country using the internet. Ever since the invention of the printing press, governments have attempted to silence intolerable voices. Eventually laws were constituted to protect freedom of the press and respect for an envelope’s seal (especially in the US). UN administration of the internet may lead to dramatic losses in American freedoms. Currently, communication has been allowed to flourish and as TPB’s founder stated in an interview, no one would ever dream of breaking a letter’s scared seal in search of copyrighted material — so let the rules that apply offline apply online as well. If governments controlled the internet, it is highly possible that every email and personal communication would be monitored and free speech might even be hindered. The wheat of creativity would be destroyed right along side the chaff of cyber crime. Moreover, an internet police state may arise from UN control. Bureaucracy would govern every aspect of the internet and some critics fear that UN control would lead to internet taxation. Ethically speaking, the rules that apply offline should apply online (American rules that is). American philosophy allows for freedom of expression not currently protected in other nations. 

The problem is that the possibilities one has online is far superior to the possibilities offline. The online world is fast-paced, extensive, and with the right technology, can be completely anonymous. This type of cyber attack, occurs more rapidly, with consequences that are more widespread, and in many cases are completely untraceable, thus rendering the effects of cyber crime more potent than in the physical world. In an instant someone’s online bank account can be drained by an anonymous hacker sitting halfway across the globe. At least thieves in the physical world have to make their hits in person. In the cyber world, a hacker could drain hundreds of accounts simultaneously while sitting safely in another hemisphere of the globe, remain completely anonymous, and virtually untraceable by cyber detectives. The consequences of cyber crimes are far more severe. It is for this reason that one must ask if cyber laws must be enforced with a different measure than those enforced in the physical world. Cyber ethics is a whole new world. Because there are two worlds, we may find it necessary to constitute two different sets of rules. Is it ethical for governments to enforce stricter laws than those enforced in the physical world? The consequences of cyber crime surpass those committed in the physical world and therefore, it may be plausible to make cyber laws that surpass those of the physical world.

Internet threats are like prairie dogs, you never know where they will pop up next. The difficulty of pinpointing criminal activity on the web and react promptly is a challenging task. When Interpol made a raid on TPB, confiscating their servers and arresting those responsible for maintaining the website, other members of TPB within three days set up three new servers in three different countries. This precaution ensures that if another raid took place, the website would remain online unless three raids occurred simultaneously in those three different countries. The likelihood of this occurring is slim, especially because the countries TPB chose are not known for respecting international copyright laws. The prairie dogs will just keep popping up some place new, there simply is no end to the world wide web.

The copyright debate is a very slippery topic. TPB website only catalogs links to pirated material, but does not pirate the material. The MPAA accuses TPB of being an accomplice to crime, making pirating more accessible to millions. Piracy is not the only crime, there are more serious crimes. There are many other examples of indisputable criminal activity such as cyber terrorism. There are a few websites that teach others how to construct homemade bombs and host forums that encourage hate. Other websites scam unsuspecting victims of their personal identity. Some websites harvest data to be sold and used by hackers who will in turn use personal information to drain bank accounts by buying illegal goods. Other websites infect computers with viruses that cause pornographic images to appear, even when the computer is offline. Some viruses are intended to destroy a computer out of malice and others to compromise sensitive information. Some hackers have been known to encrypt a hard drive's contents and hold it for ransom until the computer owner pays whatever fee the hacker demands. 

All the criminal activity that plagues the web today has pushed the governments of the world to consider taking control of the internet. Regardless if this course of action encroaches on the freedoms of internet users or not, the internet may soon become a police state to bring order from chaos.