Brazils controversial plan to extricate the internet from US control

Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff with Barack Obama at the White HouseBy Amanda Holpuch

When Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff postponed her official visit to the US in protest of National Security Agency spying activities on Tuesday, it seemed like a routine bit of diplomatic posturing.

But another one of her proposals could perhaps be more significant: a set of measures intended to extricate the internet in Brazil from under the influence of the US and its tech giants.

Some are claiming the country is embarking on a course that will cut itself off from the internet. To international policy experts however, Rousseff’s proposals offer a more open and comprehensive discussion of issues that have been quietly brewing in the internet community.

“The hope that Brazil has is that the measures would curb the control the US has in terms of infrastructure and that maybe it will be a pressure for the United States to change its practices that came to knowledge after the Snowden leak,” said Marilia Maciel, a researcher who works on Internet security policy at Brazil’s Fundacao Getulio Vargas.

To do this, Rousseff proposed a set of ambitious, and controversial, measures that include: constructing submarine cables that do not route through the US, building internet exchange points in Brazil, creating an encrypted email service through the state postal service and having Facebook, Google and other companies store data by Brazilians on servers in Brazil.

“I think that there is a feeling that the US has always had a prominent role in internet governance and they want to change that,” Maciel said. “The conversation is under way, and it became prominent last year at Dubai.”

It’s the conversation at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) Dubai that has internet executives offering alarmist warnings about a balkanized internet that suppresses online freedom. There, Russia and China explicitly stated their hopes to take control of the internet away from the US.

At a discussion in New York last week, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said he was more concerned about a balkanized internet than NSA surveillance and government spying.

The real danger [from] the publicity about all of this is that other countries will begin to put very serious encryption – we use the term ‘balkanization’ in general – to essentially split the internet and that the internet’s going to be much more country specific,” Schmidt said. “That would be a very bad thing, it would really break the way the internet works, and I think that’s what I worry about.”

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