Many of us know that the Internet began as an American project after WWII when our government needed a system that would allow message authentication between various parts of the military. Vint Cerf and his team together with the help of Robert Kahn, a computer scientist, put together what’s called a domain – a long list of code with something like http: that serves as a virtual address. As Michael Joseph Gross explained in his article “World War 3.0:”
“The sole centralized feature of the Internet was the Domain Name System (D.N.S.).”
(ICANN HQ, Marina del Rey, California. courtesy: Wikipedia)
When the Internet became popular, addresses multiplied and so the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names (ICANN) was created by the United States Government. ICANN is a private corporation but American ownership has become a fact that chafes with other nations as the web’s importance grows. In the main there are no taxes, tariffs, no international ways to impose regulations or to protect intellectual-property. What’s more this virtual Wild West, as Gross points out, is an entity people take as a right and not merely a convenience. (“World War 3.0,” Michael Joseph Gross, “Vanity Fair,” May, 2012)
Gross outlines the debate over the Internet on 3 major concerns:
2) data privacy and cyber-security
3) the right of a nation to impose its sovereign will on activities of the Internet
Last year, Russia and China led a United Nations effort to wrest control of ICANN from the United States and wanted to impose a different code of conduct for the system. One of the ideas floated was a “virtual passport” or ID that would include biometric data so users of the system can be tracked. Naturally, there are those who oppose this view or subscribe to a more innocuous version. At bottom, the debate is one of security versus privacy. People tend to value both but in differing degrees that makes resolving conflict difficult.
Network neutrality is an additional issue making agreement difficult. It holds that the Internet should be open to everyone; but commercial interests have come into play. Some competitors are nervous about how one gains access to the web and at what speed. (Gross) That’s because one fact hasn’t changed about commerce: the race generally goes to the swiftest.
Initially, SOPA and PIPA were legislative attempts to resolve the conflict between Silicon Valley — which favors a loose system — and the entertainment industry that wants to control copyright infringements. But even that smaller attempt at compromise went down in flames.
In sum, there is a war going on. At stake is the virtual world. The struggle may fail to grab headlines like those in Syria or Afghanistan, but the lives of almost everyone on the planet will be affected by its outcome. That’s an issue for writers to think about. As Salman Rushdie said: “At its best, art is revolution.”
Read the first installment to this post
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