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October 1, 2005

Fighting for Control of the Internet? How Pointless

Allow me to let you in on a little secret: the Internet is not controllable in any meaningful way. At least, not permanently.

Lately, the UN (and then the EU) have tried to "take control" of the Internet away from the US government, and have fortunately been refused. There are a lot of bloggers commenting on this, including:

Meryl Yourish
Mark in Mexico
UPDATE: ZenPundit
UPDATE: The Glittering Eye

And Belmont Club, who asks: "BTW, who does control the Internet?"

Well, here's the thing: if you don't live in a country that controls everything that you can do with telecommunications (including to whom you can place phone calls), you do, if you want it. All you have to do is decide which networks you want to connect to, agree with them on how addresses are provided and which systems will act as root servers for the naming services, and establish a physical connection between your networks. In actual fact, that is exactly how the Internet came into being, as university and government and corporate networks began to connect to each other. (The naming service has already completely changed once; google "dns history" without the quotes.)

So should some tyrannical agency start compelling the existing backbone providers (that is, the companies that provide connectivity and bandwidth to the ISPs that provide you with connectivity and bandwidth), an alternate Internet would spring up within a very short time period, using different name servers, a different body controlling addressing and ports, and not connecting to the existing Internet, except maybe through a controlled and isolated gateway system. (In an ideal world, the first step would be to fix the underlying problems with IP, such as lack of encryption/non-deniability at the lowest protocol level and the too-small address space), but we don't live in an ideal world, and getting OS vendors to release patches for all of their extant OSs, including ones they no longer actually sell or support, just isn't going to happen.)

That's it. All it takes is agreement on two things (who assigns numbers and where to go to look for names) and a physical connection, which could be anything from a phone connection periodically dialed to a direct physical line. And it's a given that middlemen would evolve immediately to make it unnecessary for everyone to connect to everyone else — that's a lesson we've already learned. Then middlemen would evolve to connect the middlemen, and voluntary groups would come into being to reach consensus on protocols and standards, and we'd be back where we started, having moved anyone who wants and is not denied freedom over to the new internet, leaving behind the censors, tyrants, and those unfortunate enough to be compelled to live under them.

There's a shorthand term for all of this: the Internet routes around censorship. The Internet was designed to survive a nuclear war; the UN doesn't have a chance.

UPDATE: Little we can do but acquiesce? What are they going to do to make me (or anyone else) change the addresses of a. b. c. and so forth? Frown at us really hard? Issue an ultimatum? They can kiss my named.ca.

Posted by jeff at October 1, 2005 7:15 PM

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» Missing the point on control of the Internet domain names from The Glittering Eye
Quite a few people including Jeff Medcalf of Caerdroia have commented on the (correct, in my view) snubbing of the UN desire to control Internet domain name assignment by the United States government: The Bush administration announced Thursday tha... [Read More]

Tracked on October 2, 2005 10:31 AM