The NSA are there own worst enemy. Unless Edward Snowden is a planted leaker of documents, somehow…in some obscure way helping the NSA, it’s difficult to imagine how the NSA’s invasive snooping of personal communications is necessary. In fact, it’s hard to think of a more poorly arranged set of information seeking ventures than those the NSA has arranged over the last ten years. It’s been anything but careful or cautious. They placed equipment and personnel at internet exchange sites in special rooms to monitor information flows. One wonders if they bothered to put a sign on the door saying, “Quiet Spies At Work”? Did they think no one would notice, or that no one would say anything?
At any rate, currently disgust and outrage targeted at the NSA are palpable in some quarters: and for good reason. There are better ways to build a global information network than create an all seeing centralized digital spy structure. Unfortunately, it looks as if that is what has been constructed and there are now hard decisions to be made about how the United States will go about reforming and resurrecting the internet as a viable information tool that can be trusted.
Other countries aren’t waiting around to find out how all this works out. There are several different, but each affective, internet strategies that allow Russia, Iran and China internet usage without cooperating with the United States, or at least cooperating completely. Let’s start with Iran, because they are currently negotiating with the West for a changed relationship. Iran is isolated economically and politically, but not so digitally,
Iran was originally connected to the internet on a leased line from the University of Vienna in 1992. By 2000 the Iranian government passed censorship laws on internet use. Over the last thirteen years a whole separate intranet has been built in Iran. In this way there is the possibility of centralized control of the intranet by the government. The Halal net, as it is called, works in parallel with the larger internet, within Iran. If the Iranian government wanted to turn off the outside world, it can and then it would be just using Halal net.
With Halal net Iran holds an alternative to the world wide web that may be attractive it other Islamic countries. A much larger separate intranet that has centralized control (and censorship) is a possible alternative to a world wide internet that is invasive. Here is a possible schism in the global internet.
China’s Internet Is About Language Characters
China has a completely different technical method of finding its own territory on the world wide web. China is not building a separate network like Iran, but because Chinese language is built on characters far different from western alphabets, the Chinese had to develop a different keyboard system that allows Chinese language to be typed electronically. In 1976 Chu Bong-Fu invented the Cangjie input method, which assigns different “root characters” to each key on a standard computer keyboard. It was the first method that allowed users to enter more than a hundred Chinese characters per minute.
There are other keyboards developed since 1976, but Cangjie input is one of the most accurate. All of the Chinese language adapted keyboards provide a divide-point in the larger world wide web. Translation between Chinese and Western languages is possible, but not accurate. Therefore, the Chinese and other Asian languages based on characters, rather than an alphabet, are their own realm online. They are distinguished by language far more than other language differences between alphabet based languages.
Unique Russian E-Commerce
Finally, the Russians are setting themselves apart by their methods of financing e-commerce. Due to a widespread distrust of online financial systems, the Russians generally approach internet sales as cash transactions. At first that sounds odd, but when I looked into what that meant, I found three issues , all of which conspire to inhibit high tech shopping. Mail delivery and parcel post are generally too expensive and too undependable for fast convenient fulfillment of online orders. Bank fees are exorbitant and the majority of Russian customers don’t trust electronic payments. What has happened, due to these issues, is an alternative online shopping method developed around cash and cash machines.
Those machines are called Qiwi sites and they look a lot like and operate like an ATM machine. To make a purchase you have to go to one of these machines, which are widely distributed in Moscow and other large Russian cities, and make the purchase by depositing cash and getting credit vouchers to assign in the online purchase.
Iran, China and Russia all have distinctive online methods that set them apart from the world wide web. Others say they will follow. For example, in response to NSA online spying, Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, said she intends to build a Brazilian fiber optic network that will allow Brazil to take itself off of U.S. based exchange routers. Basically, this is a threat to do what Iran has already done. The point is the world wide web has some separate fiefdoms within it already and threats to devise more of them. The internet then becomes a territorial based structure with digital walls.
It’s not surprising to see these developments. Why would other countries want to freely support U.S. based communications and commerce that seem predatory? The advantages of a world wide web of connections is possible, but it will have to find ways of distributing digital opportunity, and what I mean by that is online commerce and security opportunities, to other cultures and countries. The internet is still evolving. These are the growing pains of a young and undisciplined technology. This technology, however, is so powerful and offers such magnificent commercial opportunities that it’s not going to go away. Some arrangement will be worked out with all of these challenges and challengers. It’s well worth paying close attention to how it evolves, because everyone stands to gain from equitable and ethical online development.