from the think-this-through-a-moment... dept
Much of the world is, correctly, standing up against Russia following its despicable invasion of Ukraine as part of Vladimir Putin’s power-mad fever dream. And in response there are lots of questions about how different companies are looking to punish, sanction, or limit Russian access to goods and services. Some of the ideas make sense. Some of them don’t. And some of them are incredibly dangerous. In the extremely dangerous territory is Ukrainian officials reaching out to ICANN on Monday and asking it to disconnect Russia from the internet, revoking domains issued in Russia and shutting down DNS servers in Russia.
Moreover, it’s becoming clear that this aggression could spread much further around the globe as the Russian Federation puts the nuclear deterrent on “special alert” and threatens both Sweden and Finland with “military and political consequences” if these states join NATO. Such developments are unacceptable in the civilized, peaceful world, in the XXI century.
Therefore, I’m strongly asking you to introduce the following list of sanctions targeting Russian Federation’s access to the Internet:
Revoke, permanently or temporarily, the domains “.ru”, “.рф” and “.su”. This list is not exhaustive and may also include other domains issued in the Russian Federation.
Contribute to the revoking for SSL certificates for the abovementioned domains.
Shut down DNS root servers situated in the Russian Federation, namely:
Saint Petersburg, RU (IPv4 188.8.131.52)
Moscow, RU (IPv4 184.108.40.206, 3 instances)
Apart from these measures, I will be sending a separate request to RIPE NCC asking to withdraw the right to use all IPv4 and IPv6 addresses by all Russian members of RIPE NCC (LIRs – Local Internet Registries), and to block the DNS root servers that it is operating.
All of these measures will help users seek for reliable information in alternative domain zones, preventing propaganda and disinformation. Leaders, governments and organizations all over the world are in favor of introducing sanctions towards the Russian Federation since they aim at putting the aggression towards Ukraine and other countries to an end. I ask you kindly to seriously consider such measures and implement them as quickly as possible. Help to save the lives of people in our country.
It is difficult to describe just how bad an idea this is. First of all, this is kind of what Russia already wants. It’s already looking to cut itself off from the wider internet in order to keep its own citizenry misinformed. Second, this punishes the Russian people, many of whom are against the war. Third, the internet remains the best way for activists on the ground in Russia to organize and to evade crackdowns by the Russian government. Fourth, the internet remains one of the most important ways that people outside of Russia are getting information on what is happening in the country.
Thankfully, it appears that almost everyone realizes exactly why this is a terrible, terrible idea.
“This is a huge request from Ukraine,” says Justin Sherman, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative. “It’s very likely ICANN will just say no. The Kremlin is spreading tons of propaganda and disinformation about Ukraine, but this is not the way to go about addressing it.”
The RIPE Network Coordination Centre, which (as noted above) received its own such request has similarly rejected it and explained the many reasons why cutting off Russia from the internet is a dreadfully bad idea.
It is crucial that the RIPE NCC remains neutral and does not take positions with regard to domestic political disputes, international conflicts or war.
This guarantees equal treatment for all those responsible for providing Internet services. This is a fundamental reason why the RIPE NCC has been able to maintain its operations in the way it has for the past three decades. It also means that the information and data provided by the RIPE NCC can be trusted as authoritative and free from bias or political influence. Failure to adhere to this approach would jeopardise the very model that has been key to the development of the Internet in our service region.
Separately, the Internet Society has put out a statement explaining why undermining the internet at this moment is a dangerous idea.
These proposals miss something fundamental about the Internet: it was never designed to respect country borders. The idea of unplugging a country is as wrong when people want to do it to another country as it is when governments want to do it to their own.
Internet connectivity means anyone with access can use the Internet to communicate. This means aggressors and opponents alike. Unlike most historical communication methods, the Internet is astonishingly resilient when conditions for connection are bad. It’s not magic. It won’t end wars or invasions. But it is a great tool for humans to use against their oppressors.
The Internet allows people who otherwise would be silenced to speak, so it should be no surprise that there are people the world over trying to undermine the Internet.
Russia has been trying for over a decade, with limited evidence of success (whatever the Kremlin has said), to be able to unplug from the Internet. Some governments impose Internet shutdowns that harm the interests of their citizens and impede economic development, all in the interests of social control. These efforts are not “the Internet with local characteristics,” or any other catchphrase. They’re opposition to the Internet. The Internet puts decisions about connections into the hands of people who want to connect. It’s a frightening idea to those who want to control the messages. But it’s what has made the Internet a resource to enrich people’s lives.
Furthermore, it notes just how dangerous a precedent this would set:
Once large network operators start demonstrating an ability to make routing decisions on political grounds, other governments will notice. This will attract regulatory requirements to shape network interconnection in real time along political lines. If we travel that path, in short order the network of networks will not exist. In its place we would have a different network design built around national gateways, broken up on geopolitical lines, and just as dynamic and robust as other multilateral, regulation-based systems. The Internet has done a lot to erode those systems because it is more efficient and effective. We’d give that up.
Without the Internet, the rest of the world would not know of atrocities happening in other places. And without the Internet, ordinary citizens of many countries wouldn’t know what was being carried out in their name. Our best hope, however dim, is that those supporting an aggressive regime will change their support. More information can help, even as disinformation circulates. We need a better understanding of what is and is not disinformation. Cutting a whole population off the Internet will stop disinformation coming from that population—but it also stops the flow of truth.
We must not ease the path for those who hate the Internet and its ability to empower people. We must fight the suppression of the Internet. This means making sure connectivity does not stop for anyone. It means ensuring that strong encryption, which protects ordinary communications, but also allows political discourse in the face of censorship, is always available. It means making sure the critical properties of the Internet are not undermined by legislation, no matter how well-meaning. It means making interconnections cheap and easy and ubiquitous, so that all networks are reliable and robust systems that can be made from unreliable parts. It means dedicating ourselves to ensuring that the Internet is for everyone.
I can kind of understand the thinking behind the original request, but it’s important to recognize how such an idea would (1) dangerously backfire in the short-term, and (2) set an extraordinarily bad precedent for the future that would then be widely abused. There are plenty of reasonable actions to take against Russia. Cutting them off from the internet is not one and would play into Putin’s hands.