In the post-Snowden world, the Internet’s future is up for grabs. In Europe, with its historic concerns over privacy and government intrusion, calls are growing louder for impermeable digital walls. German Chancellor Merkel has called for a “European data network” that would prevent Europe-to-Europe information from passing through the U.S., and the EU has joined with Brazil to build a new undersea fiber optic cable that would be out of the control of U.S. telecoms companies. Up until now, however, Net infrastructure outside of countries like China has sent data packets on routes based on efficiency, not on national origins. Now a former German Defense Minister in Merkel’s own government has come out against the mindset that leads to these parochial policies that would “balkanize” the Internet. In an article for Techonomy, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg argues against what he calls “data secessionism.”
Everyone now knows that the American government can be intrusive on the private property of American Internet companies, and disrespectful of the personal data those companies hold. So countries around the world are determined to protect what are perceived as national assets. If we let our companies put their data into American “cloud” services, or even if our data passes through American networks, the thinking goes, our national self-determination is put at risk. It’s an extreme view, and one probably unjustified by the facts. Unfortunately, until the American government becomes much more transparent about how it actually treats the data held in cloud data centers by American companies, it is hard to compellingly argue against. But Guttenberg makes the case that the world’s economic and political success in the future depends on rational decision-making. If we don’t respect the truly global nature of much of our Internet infrastructure, we could kill the golden goose that has bequeathed us our astonishingly vibrant networked global economy.
How worried are you about data-secessionism? Are there things that Americans can do to reduce the risk of a Balkanized Internet?