I couldn't believe it when I heard it. I still can't. It takes a reminder on how the big world works and how crazy some people are to make some sense of the story. U.S. senator Joe Lieberman came up with proposed legislation that would grant the president of the U.S.A. power to turn off the Internet. To shut it down. To make it not working.
See? They never stop to amaze with their batshit crazy ideas.
He said that, for all its allure, the internet could also be a "dangerous place with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets".
Scared with this unexpected revelation, Lieberman thought it would be a great to have a switch and in he case of a cyber attack the president simply turn the thing off and everybody is safe and happy. How old is he? Four?
I don't even want to think what would happen if somebody pull the plug of the Internet. It's not just that I'll have to print this blog on the paper and send it to all of you via snail mail, that there will be no Wikipedia nor LOLcats… no e-mails, IM chat (dammit we'll have to use the phone for chatting again!). Billions of dollars worth businesses will go dead. Security systems worldwide will go dead. Traffic systems and all the banking… Dead.
If you think that nobody is crazy enough to abuse such power, think again. That switch is supposed to be in the office from which somebody sent planes to drop a couple of nuclear bombs 65 years ago. There are some really scaring freaky people out there.
photo by Lenore Edman
But is it really possible to turn the Internet off?
I can't be 100% sure but I'd say no. Sure, one country can isolate itself from the rest of the world quite easily. Cut the main links to the Internet backbone and you're off. But the rest of the world will still happily networking. Problem in this case is that most of the essential Internet infrastructure is located in the U.S. Bjorn Landfeldt, University of Sydney associate professor says:
Unfortunately, too much of the core of the internet resides in the US – let's put it this way, they cannot shut down machines in Australia, but they can completely isolate us and shut down certain core functions like the DNS… they can render the internet fairly useless for the rest of the world.
So if the U.S. disconnects itself from the rest of the world we might get in trouble. Surely, it's possible to skip over those obstacles. E.G. your bookmark will point to 220.127.116.11 instead of www.acidzen.org (except that both of those are pointing to a server located in Texas, but you get the point). But it would take at least few days to remap the network and make things functional again. And few days is too much. We'll survive few days without daily dose of fun, but some serious services our lives depend on are Internet based too.
photo by Miguel Angel
But what the group that Lieberman represents is really after? I simply can't buy the story of security. Cutting oneself from the Internet to prevent terrorist attack means executing even more devastating self attack. He's not that stupid.
But having such a switch is a nice threat to the rest of the world. Like having a really huge and powerful nuke. A really terrifying weapon that you maybe don't plan to use but which is a great asset for
negotiation dictating the world politics. We've seen lots of that in the past century. North Korea and Iran are playing the game now, but they are late and out of fashion.
Latest fashion of the evil guys is not nuclear but information power:
Do as we like or your airports will stop functioning, your army units will become disconnected from each other and all your business and education will be dead. We're even going to kill each and every plant and animal in your Farmwille.
At the same time, on the other side of the planet, and the other side of the sanity, Finland declares broadband access to the Internet to be a legal right of every individual. Like freedom of thought and expression. Like voting. And while some might find this exaggerated, it's right to the spot. Access to the Internet IS that important. Cut somebody off the Net and they are cut off the society.
Both Finland government and senator Lieberman know that. But their ideas what to do with that knowledge are very different.