I have used the Internet every day, just about, since I got my first account in 1983. I remember clearly the day in 1995 that the proscription against commercial activity was removed. (News to you? Check out the “History of the Internet” link I provide below.) I remember lamenting that the Golden Age of the Internet might well be over. I haven’t reached a conclusion yet; the final outcome of the net neutrality battle will, I think, be the deciding factor.
The Internet, you see, has historically been an organic entity, growing in unpredictable directions and increments, driven by wildly disparate human needs and limited not by economic requirement, but imagination. To allow commercial interests to institute a concrete framework of priorities — tiers of bandwidth levels and information paths — would be an environmental disaster in cyberspace equivalent to building asphalt roads on the glaciers of Antarctica.
No person, no corporation, no country, is smart enough to predict the glorious possibilities that unfettered evolution of the Internet might provide. We are at the very beginning of this interspecies journey; the Internet is barely a toddler in terms of its development. Yet already, innovations such as the use of Google search data for epidemiological purposes have made fools of all persons — pundits and politicians included — seeking to build a box big enough to hold ever-expanding cyberspace.
When I was a young father, I imagined it to be my job to guide my young charges and shape their personalities and very lives. That mental model of parenthood rapidly gave way to one in which I endeavored to create possibilities for my children, protect them from immediate harm, and stay out of the way as they invented their future and mine. Let me state clearly, the Internet is a living thing, a child; and to use our parental powers to cage it would be a transgenerational blunder — I believe, a sin — of unprecedented proportion.
Here is the cyber security aspect of my argument. The essence of security is to protect critical assets while ensuring the flow of data used to detect, report, and adapt to real-time security threats. If we build roads on the shifting surface of the Internet, by instituting pricing tiers and bandwidth categories, we will exclude entire emerging territories from the reach of security protections on a grand scale, at the same time impeding the communication of security event data needed to protect critical infrastructures around the world.
Mind you, this optimistic view of the security benefits of net neutrality relies on a couple of assumptions that may not bear out. What are the key practical requirements for a workable net neutrality scheme?
1. As implemented, net neutrality must ensure that the exchange of technical data (such as real-time attack signatures) is not impeded due to commercial preference to data flows that are more profitable for ISPs.
2. ISPs must be prevented from throttling less profitable data flows based on the excuse that they are inhibiting cyber attacks.
The Internet, I have argued, is at once a place and a person. To allow commercial interests to impose a stratification of its use would discard limitless possibilities while rendering what remains less secure as a result of impeded data exchange about threats and attacks.
Sources and Resources
Amour, Kevin and Keira Poellet, Security versus Freedom on the Internet: Cybersecurity and Net Neutrality, https://ammori.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/ammori-poellet.pdf
Wikipedia, History of the Internet, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Internet
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