How To Kill The Internet: An Annotated Guide

How To Kill The Internet: An Annotated Guide

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to kill the internet. Well, sort of. Russia is taking steps that would enable the government to unplug the country from the world wide web and fall back on its own, internal Russian network. A Russian agency plans to perform tests on a prototype of the "RosNet" (our coinage) soon.

That would be a boon to Vladimir Putin's ongoing bid to tighten control over the online realm, an obsession rooted in the anti-Putin protests of 2011-2012, and the Snowden revelations about massive US online snooping in 2013. The system is meant to be a temporary emergency measure, according to the Russian press – in case of hostile cyberattacks, or serious internal protests.


But Russia's president has a problem: ordinary Russians are accustomed to relatively unfettered access to the global internet. If Putin really pulled the plug during a bout of unrest, or if he tried to clamp down too hard on the global internet in other ways, he could face a popular backlash.

But Russia's experimentation here got us thinking: what are governments' different strategies for controlling cyberspace? Some do it for national security reasons, others are responding to consumer concerns about privacy. In all cases, what governments can and can't do is a product of the prevailing political, technological, and economic forces in their countries.

Here are a few basic approaches we've noticed:

Build your own: That's China's approach. Around 800 million people in the country surf the web, buy stuff and find love over a sanitized version of the internet that's been engineered to block or stamp out information that could threaten political stability or the legitimacy of the Communist Party. That seems to suit China's millions of internet users just fine. It easier to tolerate being disconnected from the global internet when you've already got domestic internet services and apps that are easily as innovative, and in some cases even more influential, than foreign ones. But that's a model that other governments – even technologically sophisticated ones like Russia's – will struggle to replicate.

Cut it off, and damn the consequences: Governments that lack the resources and knowhow to develop sophisticated censorship systems like China's or a backup domestic internet like the one Russia hopes to build still have options for controlling cyberspace. When governments in Cameroon or regional states in India were worried about protests or other social unrest spreading via social media, they just cut the internet off. There are two big problems with this approach: one, it's expensive – and will only grow more so as a bigger chunk of the global economy relies on online connectivity. Two, it's potentially politically explosive: when Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak cut off the internet to try to stamp out protests that were being organized on social media during the Arab Spring, it only solidified popular opposition to his regime.

Tighten up the rules, but don't close the road: No country has benefited more from the global internet than the United States, and you won't see the US talking about cutting off US citizens anytime soon. Still, Washington is increasingly concerned about cybersecurity threats and the national security implications of foreign (read: Chinese) equipment suppliers. The Trump administration is more aggressively confronting foreign hackers and trying to push China's huge tech companies out of next-generation 5G networks around the world. The EU for its part, is also trying to assert more government control over the internet, by tightly regulating hate speech and setting stricter rules to protect users' personal data.

Which of these strategies do you think is most likely to succeed in the long run?

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past eight days, the US-China relationship got notably hotter. None of the new developments detailed below is big enough by itself to kill hopes for better relations next year, but collectively they point in a dangerous direction.

US jabs over Hong Kong: On September 14, the US State Department issued a travel warning for the city because of what it calls China's "arbitrary enforcement of local laws" by police. The US is closely monitoring the case of 10 people detained by China while attempting to flee to Taiwan by boat. China's response to US criticism of its new security law in Hong Kong remains muted. That could change if relations deteriorate further.

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Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, joins Ian Bremmer on this week's World in 60 seconds to discuss multilateralism, optimism, and the return to normal in the post-pandemic world.

Could this pandemic actually present an opportunity to bolster global support for multilateralism and what should that look like moving forward, Brad?

Brad Smith:

Well, I think it's an imperative and it has to bolster support for multilateralism for a very simple reason. We cannot afford to assume that it will be another century before we see a pandemic like this again. We have to take from this experience, all of the learning we can muster and put in place what we will need to be better prepared. And the only way we can do that is to start with an obvious fact. Viruses don't respect borders. So people have to work together across them as governments and with the kinds of support from companies and civil society that it'll take to ensure that we don't find ourselves as ill prepared a decade from now or five years from now, as we were when this year began.

Ian Bremmer:

On the one hand, there's been a lot of lack of leadership, at least internationally, the G20 doing nearly as much coming out of this crisis that we saw coming out of the 2008 financial crisis when it was founded. On the other hand, you've got supra-nationalism in Europe with the Germans and the French, and indeed unanimous votes to actually create stronger redistribution, stronger capacity and resilience of that institution. You've got the World Health Organization, the UN here working with a bunch of leaders and the private sector.

What gives you cause so far for most optimism that we actually are going to respond more effectively?

Brad Smith:

Well, I think one of the fascinating aspects of this pandemic in its own way has been the critical importance of data. We're all relying on data, literally, to manage government decisions that determine whether we get to leave our homes, where we get to go, what we get to do. But the truth is what we've also learned is that the data that is needed to address something like this needs to be measured in a consistent way across borders. At Microsoft we're doing a lot of work with the World Health Organization. Just learning from that how each individual government can be more effective if it's collaborating with others in a more unified way, putting digital technology and data to work. I think there's a lot of insight from that narrow slice that in fact impacts every part of the economy in the world today.

Ian Bremmer:

One of the things that people have been most concerned about is that the pandemic is driving borders up. It's driving people farther apart. But the fact that technology is working as well as it is right now is also unlocking human capital in terms of distance learning, in terms of telemedicine for large numbers of people that otherwise would have been left further behind in a crisis like this.

Brad Smith:

We're all learning a lot. I think tele health services are one of the great examples of where we're going to find in the future that it doesn't mean that people will no longer go to a doctor, but they'll only go to a doctor when they need to see a doctor in person.

And we'll probably live in a world where people have more consultation with health professionals because tele-health will fill-in a void, but we're also finding all the cracks in our societies. What it means when some people have broadband and others don't. Some people have access to digital skills and others don't. So it's a world of new opportunity, but if the opportunity isn't distributed more broadly, then it's going to exacerbate all the divides we already worry about in our societies.

Ian Bremmer:

What's the piece of life after coronavirus when truly people feel safe, again, that we're not socially distancing and the rest, that you think is going to be most different from life before coronavirus?

Brad Smith:

Well, I think it's going to be a more of a mixture of hybrid life. I'm not one who believes that people will want to stay in their houses forever. I think there's a lot that can be accomplished when people get together that they can't do when they're by themselves. But there's also a lot that we can do that will add convenience and efficiency and effectiveness to our lives by combining this in-person interaction with remote sort of everything, shopping, ordering food, connecting with people around the world, we have the opportunity to build sort of a richer experience. But again, only if the technology that's essential for this is within everyone's reach.

Ian Bremmer:

I also think we could get used to being six feet apart from each other for a longer period of time.

Brad Smith:

Yeah. But I still think you'll go to a sporting event, people are still going to want to be in a crowd. Go to a theater, people are going to want to be in the crowd. It will be fascinating to see how long some of these other habits persist once we're finally out of the other end of this tunnel and can look at it in the rear view mirror.

As global leaders turn their attention to the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the 2020 General Assembly, GZERO Media offers a look back at one of the greatest diplomatic mysteries of the 20th century. The UN's second Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld's mysterious death in 1961, while on a mission to Congo, is the subject of a new book by investigative correspondent and New York Times correspondent Ravi Somaiya. It has the twists and turns of a Tom Clancy novel.

Trump is willing to give up Wisconsin for Belarus' democracy? When multilateralism hits the Zoom calls, we can't really tell what's real and what's not. #PUPPETREGIME