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Big Tech weaponizing internet amid conflict

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    30th Mar, 2022

Context

Amid the continued “weaponization” of the internet by some Big Tech platforms during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict bringing back the focus on the sweeping powers of social media platforms, India is readying a new cybersecurity and data governance framework.

Analysis

How Big Tech firms are weaponizing internet and why it is a troubling precedent:

  • Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, companies, countries, Big Tech platforms and intermediaries have announced a slew of sanctions which have either stopped or cut off services being provided by them to Russia and its citizens.
  • Some of these measures include stoppage of payment services, refusal by intermediaries to operate in Russia and not allowing their citizens to post.
  • Two phenomenon are very visible: one is weaponisation of the internet of which we were aware of in some sense.
  • The second is the phenomenon of the splinter-net. The internet is increasingly being splintered, driven by power of some Western countries.
  • The actions by Big Tech companies and intermediaries also violate basic principles of net neutrality and basic idea of openness of internet as they have now become “gatekeepers”.
  • These platforms have now become dominant and in the event of a conflict between two sovereigns, they are being weaponised and there are no laws that would prevent this.
  • The use of sanctions to cut off access to internet is disturbing. It is quite a troubling precedent.

What is splinter-net?

  • The splinternet (also referred to as cyber-balkanization or internet balkanization) is a characterization of the Internet as splintering and dividing due to various factors, such as technology, commerce, politics, nationalism, religion, and divergent national interests.
  • In this internet is controlled by autonomous political blocs or any other controlling power—such as tech or e-commerce companies, or countries with diverging national interests tied to nationalism or religion.
  • In its original form, the internet transcended borders and allowed people unfettered access to virtually everything, while the splinternet limits citizens’ access to data, forces businesses to keep data within borders, and even changes how they operate within a state.
  • Splinternet is often defined as the balkanization of the net, as nations try to preserve their sovereign identities and economic interests.
  • A fusion of the words “split" and “internet", the splinternet is a fragmented version of the world wide web with national identities.

Examples:

  • The Chinese government erected the "Great Firewall" for political reasons, and Russia has enacted the Sovereign Internet Law that allows it to partition itself from the rest of the Internet.
  • US and Australia, discuss plans to create a similar firewall to block child pornography or weapon-making instructions.
  • Russia has accelerated domestic online censorship amid Russia-Ukraine crisis.
  • A Russian court banned Facebook and Instagram as "extremist" - part of efforts by Moscow to crack down on social media during the conflict in Ukraine.

Learning for India in dealing with Cyberspace:

  • These recent events strengthen India’s case for
    • Data localization,
    • National champions,
    • Resilient internet network architecture,
    • Native open APIs (application programming interface) and
    • A strong cyber security command centre.
  • It is validating our thinking in terms of a new digital law, the need for a data governance framework.
  • We need to basically create a framework which will have the data protection law, a digital law and other cyber security statutes.
  • Architecturally, we need to build the cyberspace jurisprudence rather than doing it piecemeal or in catch up mode.

Conclusion

These Big Tech companies, which initially rallied on government support to become the behemoths that they are today, are now presiding over splinter-net and the balkanisation of internet by imposing sanctions on countries.

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