Streetwise Professor

November 17, 2012

Is Russia the Future? Sadly, the Answer May Be Yes.

Filed under: Politics,Regulation,Russia — The Professor @ 7:07 pm

Russia is relentlessly pushing a plan to revolutionize the governance of the internet.  Working behind the scenes, Russia is scheming to place control of crucial aspects of the internet under the auspices of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union.

The Russian Federation is calling on the United Nations to take over key aspects of Internet governance, including addressing and naming, according to documents leaked on Friday from an upcoming treaty conference.

The Russians made their proposal on November 13 in the lead-up to December’s World Conference on International Communications in Dubai. The conference will consider revisions to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), a treaty overseen by the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The treaty has not been revised since 1988, before the emergence of the commercial Internet.

Russia’s proposals would, if adopted, dramatically affect Internet governance, transferring power from engineering-based organizations such as the Internet Society and ICANN to national governments, all under the authority of the UN.

There are 193 Member States participating in the WCIT. Each gets a single vote on proposed changes to the treaty. The treaty negotiations and its documents are secret, though many have been exposed through the Web site WCITLeaks, run by two researchers at George Mason University.

“The [proposed] additions to the ITRs…are aimed at formulating an approach that views the Internet as a global physical telecommunications infrastructure, and also as a part of the national telecommunications infrastructure of each Member State,” the Russian proposal says.

Russians propose bringing “IP-Based Networks” under UN control

Currently, the ITRs cover only international telecommunications services (PDF). But the Russians propose adding a new section to the treaty to deal explicitly with “IP-based networks.” Bringing the Internet into the treaty in any capacity would represent a major expansion of the scope of the ITU’s authority.

A congerie of the world’s civil liberties lovelies, including Iran and China as well as Russia, is pushing this initiative.  If that doesn’t engender warm and fuzzy feelings, what will?  What could possibly go wrong?

A word to the wise: putting anything under the auspices of the UN is to surrender it to the control of autocrats and kleptocrats, and autocratic kleptocrats.  Where the UN treads, freedom dies.

There is no surprise that Russia, China, Iran and the other assorted modern day fascists want to control the internet.  Where information is free, autocrats are vulnerable.  Control of information is necessary to maintain control of power-and the spoils that go along with it.

Russia recently implemented an internet control regime that gives you a flavor of exactly of the kind of thing Putin et al have in mind:

On the surface, it’s all about protecting Russian kids from internet pedophiles. In reality, the Kremlin’s new “Single Register” of banned websites, which goes into effect today, will wind up blocking all kinds of online political speech. And, thanks to the spread of new internet-monitoring technologies, the Register could well become a tool for spying on millions of Russians.

Signed into law by Vladimir Putin on July 28, the internet-filtering measure contains a single, innocuous-sounding paragraph that allows those compiling the Register to draw on court decisions relating to the banning of websites. The problem is, the courts have ruled to block more than child pornographers’ sites. The judges have also agreed to online bans on political extremists and opponents of the Putin regime.

. . . .

Most importantly, however, the new Roskomnadzor system introduces DPI (deep packet inspection) on a nationwide scale. Although DPI is not mentioned in the law, the Ministry of Communications — along with the biggest internet corporations active in Russia — concluded in August that the only way to implement the law was through deep packet inspection.

In other words: all your packets belong to us.

The invocation of child pornography to justify these efforts is typically cynical.  Russia has long been the largest producer and exporter of child pornography (not to mention virtually every other species of internet crime), and hasn’t done a damn thing about it.  Presumably because those who produce it and export it have paid well for the requisite krysha.  The interests of the state and the criminals are aligned.

Presumably-hopefully-the US will fight these efforts to extend the UN’s malign influence to the internet.  But if the Russian initiative succeeds-or even portions of it are implemented-do not believe for a moment that the USG will not take advantage of the powers it would confer.  Have any doubts about that?  Just look at the Petraeus-Broadwell episode, in which a ditzy socialite can call a self-righteous FBI agent friend who unleashes a efishing expedition and leaks the results to a Congressman when the investigation doesn’t proceed as he thinks it should, thereby unleashing a personal and national security nightmare.

I began to write about Russia precisely because it is a real life libertarian dystopia, and as such should serve as a warning to those who have been heretofore able to maintain some semblance of civil liberties and property rights (a redundancy, actually, because property rights are the foundation to civil rights).  But we in the West, and in the US are specifically, are converging to Russia from above.   There are aspects of the Benghazi debacle that provide further evidence of that convergence.   More on that soon.

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  1. Scary world we live in.

    Comment by voroBey — November 17, 2012 @ 10:06 pm

  2. I agree up to a point. The ITU and states must be kept far, far away from the Internet. Russia is merely trying to rein the huge outpouring of civil society and dissent online, on LiveJournal and Facebook and Twitter and vKontakte and other Russian networks. They hate that freedom, and they want to kill that, not stop child pornography, which they enable constantly by never prosecuting it. Likely some of their top officials are involved in it.

    The ITU and all things UN must be kept far, far from the Internet. I was worried even about the UN Human Rights Council resolution that the US sponsored, under the tender mercies of the ebay tycoon’s wife Amb. Donahoe, a bundler appointed by Obama to serve as an ambassador to the HRC. She ensured — after everybody from John Perry Barlow on down got to her at Electronic Frontier Foundation and other copyleftist outfits — that the word “development” appeared not once but twice. A normal seasoned US ambassador at the UN *might* have let through only if that was the only way it could pass with Russia, China, etc. — but twice? That happens because “develop” is a code-word for state activity — like “net neutrality”. Every time you utter the word “develop” at the UN, you encourage states to take over. So that was a very, very mixed bag even with the good will of the US to promote Internet freedom.

    HOWEVER, here’s the problem with denouncing all state involvement with the Internet, including even liberal democratic states under the rule of law like the US. Who is going to serve as a hedge against the big grab by the networked hackers and copyleftists and Anonymous? This is why I never sign up for the libertarian project — you never have answers for how we can be protected *from each other* in a society when there is so much criminality masking as freedom — like Anonymous, like rampant piracy.

    When you don’t have a balance of state and private, individual and corporate, and you get rid of states because you think they are evil controllers, what happens is that the NGOs then, and these lovely organizations like ICANN and IEEE and IETF and the Internet governance types with the “progressive engineers” etc. that just met in Baku — they can be just as bad or worse than an authoritarian state. Worse, because you have no way of taking them to court or making them accountable. They can impose things like “net neutrality,” or launch campaigns against intellectual property, as they did with SOPA, or scream about telecoms making private business decisions over the scarce commodity of bandwidth, which costs money — and call for state takeover and regulation, invoking Verizon being down during Sandy. And then you have no recourse.

    The “progressives” are just as problematic as the corrupt and cynical Russians — even if not as destructive — and the ideology comes from the same historical place. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Russia won’t succeed at the ITU, as the US is indeed pushing back as is most of the West and even some of the more liberal third world.

    So what it will do is infiltrate NGOs and get its way that way. Suddenly, Rebecca McKinnon, a radical Internet “change leader” and “thought leader” will switch from screaming about Apple “censoring” the intifada ap or a James Joyce knockoff with nudity, but will become terribly concerned suddenly about child pornography in Russia — let’s say. Or something like that. Watch for it. It may not be her, but it will be one of them — people who criticize states for DMCA takedowns or what they believe to be censorship by private companies, and then suddenly celebrate Twitter for censorship-by-government. Even though most international human rights groups if anything are too lax on child pornography in the name of libertarian ideals of free speech, I’m checking my watch, and I know it’s a matter of days or weeks before suddenly, Russia has some big new international human rights friend that suddenly finds a way to invoke children’s rights and stop obsessing about free speech. So Russia will be able to stump with the rights’ crowd, even as it is utterly responsible for the wrongs.

    And Russia even “reformed” and no longer communist, still has lefty friends and still remains in fact perfectly capable of playing the socialist cards when it needs to. Esther Dyson has already started complaining that ICANN is giving out domains now to more commercial entities, for a price, to go beyond the “com” limitations. And you will find other wealthy lefty ideologues around the Internet in ICANN and other nonprofits like this — Joi Ito, for example — who hate commerce and want to put in technocommunism and who might in fact find common cause with Russia all of a sudden.

    You don’t see any of these Internet freedom advocates so voluble about the slightest thing the US does regarding the Internet saying A THING about Russia’s big grab via the ITU. And that’s consistent with the pro-Kremlin stance these leftist types inevitably keep taking in line with their old DSA style politics going back to Port Huron or even earlier.

    Perhaps you’re old enough to remember the fight against the New World Information Order at the UN, which UNESCO was going to install in the 1970s, with Soviet and Cuban help. It took a real battle to get that overturned, and finally it was. It has all come back again with the multilaterals with the same actors unchanged or reverting to form today.

    Comment by Catherine Fitzpatrick — November 17, 2012 @ 10:55 pm

  3. Big issue, Prof.

    I offer the following as to why the UN works so effectively for the Russians, et al, including the USA. Remember back in the day when former UN Sec’y General Kurt Waldheim was outed as a Nazi during WWII, and the Russians kept a lid on it? So did the US for that matter. (See ).

    Finding people within the UN’s power structure with deep secrets to hide is literally like shooting fish in a barrel. In most of the member countries, you have to kill off your political opposition back home (or be well placed in the faction that kills off its opposition), curry favor with (and have something on) the shogun back home, and tunnel as much money as you can into your own account so you can split after a decade or two, and not have to return home.

    In realpolitik, this is exactly what you want: The UN is a target-rich environment, where you’ll find people who will do your bidding in exchange for keeping their prestige back home and their cushy NY life here, amid the swirl of “international politics” and all that high-minded stuff. All you need is someone at the top who’ll guide the organization in the direction that favors your interests, and will allow you to place your people deep within the process so you have unfettered access to policy (and “international law” … whatever that it) during its conceptual and developmental phases — that’s where the real power is. (Sounds a lot like Washington, doesn’t it?)

    Comment by markets.aurelius — November 18, 2012 @ 6:28 am

  4. @catfitz-Thanks for your thoughtful and penetrating comment.

    First a clarification. I’m not quite that old 😉 Close!

    Kidding aside. Yes, I am quite alive to the threat posed by the eBolsheviks (or the Information Bolsheviks, if you prefer). I know-in large part because of you-the common wellspring of the copyleftists, NWIO-types and the more traditional socialist/Bolshevik left. And I think that you are right that the major threat is an alliance, wrapped in self-righteous rhetoric about protecting the children and such, between the eBolsheviks and autocratic regimes around the world.

    It’s all about control, in the end. The Russians, Chinese, Iranians etc., and the “technocommunists” are both interested in control, and achieving it by any means necessary.

    In some sense the Russians are easier to fight. The eBolsheviks are more insidious, because they have largely succeeded in co-opting liberal/libertarian rhetoric in the service of a fundamentally anti-liberal (in the classical sense) agenda.

    The Googles and the Facebooks are in some respects the most difficult to know how to handle not just because of their financial heft and technological strength, but because they are commercial entities with a definite political agenda that they are willing to advance by abusing the information they acquire through their often quite beneficial commercial activities. How to constrain the latter without damaging other legitimate commercial enterprises which don’t abuse their power and information?

    In some respects, there are great similarities between this dilemma and that which spawned the original Progressive (capital P) movement in the early-20th century. Unfortunately, the statist project intended to constrain the political power of corporations that started with TR and Wilson had largely perverse consequences, primarily because-just as we are seeing today-enhancing the power of the state too often just enhances the power of the private interests who have a comparative advantage in manipulating the state.

    Can’t say that I have any answers, except that I have a strong bias against efforts that concentrate power, and strive to find ways it can be diffused and decentralized. The problem is that when technologies with pronounced scale economies prevail-be they mass production technologies in the early-20th century or information technologies in the early-21st-that is a very hard thing to do.

    Thanks again for the comment. Hopefully we can continue the conversation and grope towards some way towards a less-Orwellian future.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 18, 2012 @ 6:43 am

  5. @markets.aurelius. Absolutely. It is like the faux crackdown on corruption in Russia right now. Everyone has a vulnerability: the vulnerability is exploited only when it is needed to achieve a political end. Knowing that, the vulnerable are usually quite amenable. Corruption and related dark arts are a means of keeping people in line.

    Douglas Allen’s book on 18th century England argues that corruption was an efficient way of providing incentives to bind political agents to their principals in the context of measurement and enforcement technologies prevalent at the time. Some of his insights translate quite well to Russia, the UN, etc.

    And, as you suggest, increasingly to DC/the US. That’s exactly what I mean that we’re converging to Russia from above.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 18, 2012 @ 10:52 am

  6. […] Craig Pirrong is more up to date on matters in Russia than I am. But having lived and worked there myself I wouldn’t trust the State apparatus to organise a round of vodka shots in a distillery. Indeed, thinking back, the State itself didn’t trust itself to organise such, booze provision was farmed out to various mafias, veterans organisations and at one point, sporting organisations. But as Pirrong points out, this is what much of the world can hope for if national governments get these powers: […]

    Pingback by No, We Really Don’t Want The UN Taking Over The Internet | Up to the hour news — November 18, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

  7. Thanks, Prof. I look forward to reading Allen’s book.

    Comment by markets.aurelius — November 18, 2012 @ 6:02 pm

  8. All this was forecast back in July when Danger Room presented an article about Eugene Kaspersky.

    In that article was the following quote from Kaspersky:

    “…Kaspersky’s vision for the future of Internet security—which by Western
    standards can seem extreme. It includes requiring strictly monitored
    digital passports for some online activities and enabling government
    regulation of social networks to thwart protest movements. “It’s too
    much freedom there,” Kaspersky says, referring to sites like Facebook.”

    Notice especially how Kaspersky wanted the GOVERNMENT to regulate “social networks to thwart protest movements.”

    At the time the article was written, ALL Russian (and 98% of the American) commentators did not have a single thing to say about Kaspersky’s “vision.”

    A little late now to start complaining about Putin’s internet censorship to thwart opposition speech against him.

    Comment by Anders — November 18, 2012 @ 11:58 pm

  9. Don’t forget, SWP, that brute force is only half of Russia’s pincer movement against the Internet. The other half is efforts to corrupt it by purchasing lies.

    And don’t forget how often and how loudly we were told by the Russophiles that we didn’t have to worry about Putin’s crackdown on TV and newspapers, because the Internet would remain vibrant and free in Russia and would counterbalance any such efforts. Those statements were lies, designed to get us to drop our guard and let Putin crush the MSM before turning against the Internet, which he did.

    Comment by La Russophobe — November 19, 2012 @ 4:32 am

  10. @Anders. I remember seeing that. Thanks for reminding me of it and bringing it to everyone’s attention.

    Given that, and many other similar things Kaspersky has said/done, a word to the wise. You have to be out of your mind to use Kasperrsky “security” software.

    @LR. Yes, those blathering about the internet in Russia bring to mind Churchill’s quote about the crocodile: they are cheering because they haven’t been eaten yet. A rather short-sighted view, given the beast’s appetite.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 19, 2012 @ 6:14 am

  11. One would think that Kaspersky greatly benefits from the current laissez-faire state of the Internet. Also, isn’t kompromat how most “leaders” are chosen and kept in check? Witness Obama.

    Comment by So? — November 20, 2012 @ 10:50 pm

  12. @So?-That Kaspersky benefits from the laissez-faire nature of the Internet does not imply that it is independent of the Russian government, and most notably the security structures. It can have it both ways, in some respects. Its sales of software benefit from an unrestricted Internet, but it can at the same time serve Russian state interests. As Catherine has pointed out, it is no accident comrade that Kaspersky has been the one that has identified US cyberwar efforts, notably against Iran. If someone wants to give the FSB access to their computer, installing Kaspersky software is the way to do it.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 21, 2012 @ 8:38 am

  13. At the least the US walked out of the UN vote.

    WSJ, 12/17/12 “A Narrow Internet Escape”

    Comment by Nicole — December 18, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

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