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Can the U.S turn off the internet, what could the rest of the world do about it?
March 7, 2008 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Internet mechanics and conspiracy: With the recent news of Pakistan somehow taking YouTube down, Swiss banks forcing U.S hosts to ban WikiLeaks, under-water cables being cut and the US government having the power to ban Cuba-related domains, I was wondering: if the U.S "turns off the internet", what could be done? How powerful is it in this respect?

More specifically

1. Can the U.S government take down any websites it wants? Would it?

2. How easy would it be for a country (or a whole region) to quickly construct it's own insular internet (i.e. South East Asia, South America etc) using existing hardware and internet software should something happen? Should this be done now?

3. Why does China not just construct it's own internet for citizens and ban all foreign communication?

4. What can be done to preserve one-internet-access around the world?

I know very very little about computers. News/ academic articles would be great although long-winded answers here are usually pretty damn awesome. Basically, conspiracy theories/scenarios regarding the internet refuted please...
posted by takeyourmedicine to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well for item 1 see:

A Wave of the Watch List, and Speech Disappears
posted by MeatLightning at 12:57 PM on March 7, 2008


This might help answer your question
posted by mpls2 at 1:53 PM on March 7, 2008


1. Can the U.S government take down any websites it wants? Would it?

The US government can and does censor varieties of speech through a variety of nonviolent (legal) means and violent (extralegal) means.

Since its National Telecommunications and Information Administration has oversight of ICANN, it can control domain registrations and policies. With its connections to the management of AT&T, Verizon and other communications corporations, it can have parts of the net shut down at will, when it isn't eavesdropping on the rest.

Would it? It already does.

2. How easy would it be for a country (or a whole region) to quickly construct it's own insular internet (i.e. South East Asia, South America etc) using existing hardware and internet software should something happen? Should this be done now?

Some militaries have their own backbone. Certainly China has the wealth, infrastructure and people to manage such a project. I imagine other industrialized SE Asian countries would have the same resources.

Should it be done? Within the US itself, there are multiple Internets (not just military, either, e.g., see Internet2).

3. Why does China not just construct it's own internet for citizens and ban all foreign communication?

That would be unprofitable, and certainly logistically difficult without cutting all the lines going in and out of China. With increased satellite usage, it would still be possible to provide unfettered (if expensive) internet service. I suppose China could knock satellites out of the sky, but the world would be in an entirely different state at that point.

4. What can be done to preserve one-internet-access around the world?

There's only so much you can do when the idea of "one Internet" (as far as it goes) depends on people cooperating to fulfill their own interests. In the meantime, elect educated, reality-based leaders who facilitate human rights, free and fair trade, and minimize corporate dominance over government policy. Within the US itself, elect leaders who will follow through on presidential promises to free ICANN of US dominance, allowing independent and rational decision-making to take place.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:54 PM on March 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


You can probably sit here all day long and postulate conspiracy theories about who has the most power (legal or not) over the internet. The internet was originally designed and implemented to be a redundant system of nodes with packet-routing managed in such a way so that if any single node went "offline", information could still get to its destination. (this happens all the time, due to a variety of reasons, see InternetTrafficReport for current internet "weather map".)

Although there have been a variety of efforts to take down "questionable" websites such as ThePirateBay or (in more recent news) Wikileaks, anyone determined and resourceful enough can keep their services online. Internet related laws differ by country, and the legal process to take down a website generally takes a fair bit of time. In recent well known court cases (see links above) this works to the target websites advantage because the ensuing press coverage makes the websites popularity increase, much to the dismay of the people trying to take it down.

As other comments in this thread alluded, any country in the world could try to implement its own internal internet, but the cost and organization required to do so are (in my opinion) probably higher than what it would be to just "play fair" and join into the existing internet structure. Also, from what I've seen, attempts at national censorship are a losing battle, there are just to many ways around the filters.

Personally, I'm much more worried about issues of "Net Neutrality" and the scenario of "corporate takeover" of the internet. However, its been shown time and time again, no matter how hard specific companies try to lock down content or access to certain information, it eventually gets out anyways.

In my opinion, thats the beauty of the (original design intent) of the internet. It creates a (robust and redundant) level playing field where anyone can send/receive information to anyone else. The larger the internet grows (be it hardline/wired connections or world-wide wireless or satellite), the harder and harder it is for any one country to "take down" access to some specific piece of information.
posted by jmnugent at 2:40 PM on March 7, 2008


I would look at the relative briefness of the disruptions as proof that the internet will recover from most tamperings.

That said, the fewer points of failure you have, the easier it is to wreck things.

It might not work well, but it'll work.
posted by gjc at 6:23 PM on March 7, 2008


The US government controls the root DNS servers. That means that everyone everwhere eventually considers an entity controlled by the US government as the authority on what URL translates into what number. That means it has final authority on most TLDs including .com, .org, .net. What you want to reseach is the terms ICANN and IANA

This is different than telling aT&T or whomever to cut a line or tap a line. ANy government can muscle their telecom industry. The power the US has is control over what number you get when the computer asks what "amazon.com" is for example.

>1. Can the U.S government take down any websites it wants? Would it?

Yes. It can if its in a TLD it controls. This would not go well and would lead to your next question:

2. Easy, they'll just have to drop out of the common internet dns system. China and other countries are supposedly ready to block off access to the US root domain servers at the drop of the hat and push their own on-line if need be (US attack of china's interests for example). Its politically dumb, and economically stupid but is 100% doable.

At the end of the day its just TCP/IP networking.

3. Why should they? Theyre a real country, not the strawman totalitarianism boogeyman government you see described by the american media and the left. I wouldnt want to live there but its not Soviet Russia or Cuba. Its not a western-style government so the ideals of freedom of speech and the freedom of individual isnt strong, but they have the same pressures affecting them as any other government. That said, they do filter quite a bit, mostly keywords about politically touchy subjects like tibet, taiwan, and whatever that anti-government cult religion is hot there. What you want to google is the "Great Firewall of China." Ironically, sending out RST packets to curb traffic is EXACTLY how comcast stops or slows down bittorrent, right here in the US.

4. That same thing that keeps traderoutes and cultural exchange going: business and a citizenry that demands it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:47 PM on March 7, 2008


Here's a slashdot post from today about this very subject.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:56 PM on March 7, 2008


All countries already have their own internets, for example, if the links to Australia are severed, the hosts in Oz can still connect to each other. If the US disconnected all links to the wider world everyone else would still be able to get to the sites physically hosted on servers outside the US. Even the DNS system would keep working as there are now root servers outside the US.
If you want to discuss taking action against specific parts or sites, that is a different kettle of fish.
posted by bystander at 3:20 AM on March 8, 2008


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