Yesterday, The Epoch Times reported on leaked internal Chinese government documents revealing that premier Xi Jinping has “personally directed the communist regime to focus its efforts to control the global Internet, displacing the influential role of the United States.”
Xi’s ultimate aim is for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to wield “discourse power” over communications and discussions on the global geopolitical stage by controlling content on the Internet. The CCP’s vision is “using technology to rule the Internet” by achieving total domination over every part of the online ecosystem — including applications and content — and has adopted a posture of simultaneous “attack and defense” by turning its attention towards stifling the seamless flow of information with state censorship, monitoring, and control.
The reporters explain the CCP’s three-pronged strategy, quoting Xi, that, “(t)o realize its ambitions, Xi emphasized the need to ‘manage internet relations with the United States,’ while ‘making preparations for fighting a hard war’ with the country in this area.” Also, “American companies should be used by the regime to reach its goal, Xi said.”
Alarmingly, one of the strategic prongs specifically targets control over Internet infrastructure, including root servers. Quoting cyber security expert and publisher of Cyber Defense Magazine Gary Miliefsky, “(t)he minute you control the root, you can spoof or fake anything. You can control what people see, what people don’t see.”
I have previously written at length about this in articles and in my book, How to Save the Internet in Three Simple Steps: The Netizen’s Guide to Reboot the Root,” in order to call attention to how ICANN’s compromised and corrupt behavior is, in fact, endangering the free and open Internet.
The CCP is one of the world’s foremost experts on conducting censorship at scale and its experience with the Great Firewall — which requires censorship checkpoints at each physical place where data flows across China’s national border — has offered object lessons to all would-be tyrants that inefficient censorship is not ideal while also being easily circumvented with readily-available software tools. It is foolish to be lulled into a sense of complacency by believing that China — along with others — aren’t looking at ways of improving the efficiency and efficacy of censorship, including by looking further up the Internet “stack.”
The Internet is the global communications medium but, as a distributed network of networks that is designed to be massively redundant and where participation is entirely voluntary, there is no single point of failure and no single choke point for controlling content with censorship. The next best thing, however, is a centralized domain name registry that offers the ability not only to block undesirable content, but to make it cease to exist. This would make circumvention useless by leaving nothing to be accessed by getting around censorship.
It may be that we have already witnessed a major attempt to take control of a major Internet registry: Ethos Capital’s attempt to buy control of the .org registry from the Internet Society (ISOC) in a closed-door transaction worth more than a billion dollars. Disturbingly, even at this lofty sum, .org wasn’t being sold to the highest bidder — rather it was being sold to whomever ISOC felt like selling it to. The transaction only failed after the California Attorney General intervened and ICANN’s board unexpectedly declined to approve the change of control required by the .org registry agreement.
Several former senior ICANN executives were involved in the transaction — including ex-CEO Fadi Chehade, who was presented as a consultant to the deal but was later revealed to be co-CEO of Ethos Capital — but the sources of nearly a billion dollars in funding for the acquisition remain shrouded in mystery.
After the failed .org acquisition bid, Ethos acquired Donuts, the largest operator of new gTLD registries, immediately after the latter had acquired Afilias, another registry operator and provider of backend registry services. Afilias is the backend provider for the .org registry and so Fadi’s Ethos managed to gain a foothold in a major legacy registry through a roundabout path to the backend despite finding the front door slammed shut.
As reported by The Epoch Times, China’s Xi sees the world in three spheres — red (China), black (the U.S.) and gray (middle states). This is no different than how the world was divided during the Cold War between the Free World and the Soviet bloc at polar ends and with non-aligned states in the middle. The difference today is that the U.S. government is playing right into the hands of the Communists by failing to enforce ICANN's contractual obligations in order to maintain a silly fiction of having no Internet governance influence beyond what any other country has.
Imagine if the U.S. had taken the same approach towards Berlin and Western Europe during the Cold War because it was concerned with being perceived as having “too much influence.” Considering that the U.S. invented the Internet and the original domain name registries, America doesn't really need permission to protect the free and open Internet and anyone not liking that fact should consider whether their user experience would be improved by using a Chinese or Russian "alternative."
Lenin reputedly once said, “the capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Although meant as a boast, his words might best be seen more as a cautionary warning to the U.S. government and Internet stakeholders to remember that seemingly “victimless” crimes are still crimes and that Bylaws and contracts are meant to be enforced as written. Much like the “broken windows” theory of fighting crime — which recognizes that overlooking minor deteriorations creates the environment in which greater lawlessness occurs — ICANN, its contracted parties, and other inimical interests are engaging in a profiteering and corruption bacchanal in the absence of effective enforcement of Bylaws and contractual obligations and which left unaddressed will spell the certain end of the free and open Internet.