Trump Calls For Partial Shutdown Of The Internet, Doesn't Understand What He's Saying

from the huuuuge dept

I have to admit that I find Donald Trump's presidential campaign fascinating. Or, rather, I find its survival to this point fascinating. What amazes me about it is that the Trump campaign exhibited a strong commitment to not actually putting forward any detailed policy prescriptions, except for a few general policy ideas that mostly conflict with the party whose nomination he's seeking. And those policy ideas he does express have generally been either despicable, impossible to implement, or both. Deporting six million Latin Americans? Yeah, that just isn't going to happen. Putting a hold, however temporary, on legal immigration by using a religious test to keep Muslims out of the country? That violates the very founding document an American President would be tasked with upholding. Also, it's disgusting.

But this is what you get when you have a candidate whose campaign is reflecting base anger rather than actual knowledge and know-how. And Trump's latest policy proclamation is further proof that potential voters are listening to someone who simply doesn't know what the hell they're talking about. If, like me, you're a sadist, then you too were watching the latest Republican debate on CNN the other night when Trump was asked several times if he would consider censoring the internet to combat ISIS. He eventually said he would, in a very Trump-ish way.

"I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don't want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our internet."
So that nobody thinks this is pulled out of context, Trump was actually confirming what he'd said at a campaign stop days earlier.
"We're losing a lot of people because of the internet, and we have to do something," Trump said at a rally earlier this month. "We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what's happening. We have to talk to them maybe in certain areas closing that internet up in some way."
So, the policy prescription here is for all of us to caravan over to Bill Gates house and discuss how to close up that internet over coffee and scones. Putting aside the concept of the internet being "ours", as in America's, which is dumb to begin with, most people have taken Trump's idea to be one of two things: either we're shutting down the internet in Syria and Iraq, or we're filtering the internet both inbound and outbound on the American side to keep ISIS from reaching our citizens.

As some have already written, the concept of us shutting down the internet in Syria is unworkable.
This post claims it would be easy, just forge a BGP announcement. Doing so would then redirect all Syrian traffic to the United States instead of Syria. This is too simplistic of a view. Technically, the BGP attack described in the above post wouldn't even work. BGP announcements in the United States would only disrupt traffic to/from the United States. Traffic between Turkey and ISIS would remain unaffected. The Internet is based on trust -- abusing trust this way could only work temporarily, before everyone else would untrust the United States. Legally, this couldn't work, as the United States has no sufficient legal authority to cause such an action. Congress would have to pass a law, which it wouldn't do.

ISIS has to pay for telecommunications links to route traffic through other countries. This causes ISIS to share the IP address space of those countries. Since we are talking about client access to the Internet, these are probably going through NATs of some kind. Indeed, that's how a lot of cellphone access works in third world countries -- the IP address of your phone frequently does not match that of your country, but of the country of the company providing the cellphone service (which is often outsourced). Any attempt to shut those down is going to have a huge collateral impact on other Internet users. You could take a scorched earth approach and disrupt everyone's traffic, but that's just going to increasingly isolate the United States while having little impact on ISIS. Satellite and other private radio links can be setup as fast as you bomb them.
This is technical speak for "the internet routes around censorship", especially so when you're talking about an outside force attempting to flip the off switch on internet access to an entire geographical region. It's impossible as a practical matter and downright stupid strategically on top of it. Note that ISIS controlled territory is absolutely spilling over with innocents that have no interest in ISIS ruling their lives. Trump would have us cut off one of our few access roads to those people? Why? They're the ones we're going to eventually need on our side.

Well, since that idea of censoring the internet wouldn't work, maybe Trump was talking about putting the blocks in place on the America side. You know, by blocking access to and from certain parts of the web so that they don't reach American users and American users can't reach them. There is a model for this, of course, though it's a bit strange to watch a Republican candidate pitch a Chinese censorship model as policy.
Of course, if we really wanted to exclude ISIS from the US internet, there is a model of how to do it: China's Great Firewall. That's the censorship regime the Chinese government uses to try to keep subversive ideas like democracy and human rights out of their country. In principle, we could adopt the same tactics here in the United States, building a virtual wall around the United States and filtering all of the information flowing in and out of the country to try to prevent jihadists from communicating with Americans.

And for this to work, we'd have to not only prevent ISIS members from posting on US websites but also prevent impressionable Americans from browsing websites the US government deems too ISIS-friendly. This would, of course, be a massive violation of the First Amendment, and Americans are unlikely to stand for the US government deciding which websites they're allowed to read.
It also still wouldn't work, because, again, the internet routes around censorship. Anyone that believes that the great firewall of China hasn't been penetrated is laughably naive. It may have limited access, but it hasn't cut it off. And that's in China, where there isn't a built-in fundamental value into the history of the citizenry centered around free speech and free access to information. So, not only an inept idea, but against the very Constitution that Trump would be swearing to defend.

Look, we make a habit around these parts of not ragging on either Republicans or Democrats, because that isn't what this site is about. And fortunately, this post has done neither, because Trump is neither conservative nor liberal. He's just a guy whose only ideas seem to be censorious and authoritarian. Given his wish to censor the internet, I'd say he's disqualified himself from the office.

Filed Under: donald trump, internet, policy expertise, terrorism


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2015 @ 2:59pm

    What we deserve

    Trump, not the president American needs, the president American deserves.

    Honestly, the way we've been acting as a country recently, can you say we deserve anything more than Trump. It seems a lot like a fitting punishment to me.

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