Spliternet? Spare me.

No, seriously, its not

There has been plenty of discussion about Microsoft’s attempted acquisition of TikTok and the recent executive order that barred working with TikTok, WeChat and other Chinese social media apps. But amid all of this came an interesting article in the BBC accusing the United States of “splitting the internet.” Yup, really.

“It’s shocking,” says Alan Woodward, a security expert based at the University of Surrey. “This is the Balkanisation of the internet happening in front of our eyes.

“The US government has for a long time criticised other countries for controlling access to the internet… and now we see the Americans doing the same thing.”

Dr. Alan Woodward

The article does backtrack a bit and brings up legitimate security concerns posed by China. It sparked my curiosity in Pompeo’s speech, which hasn’t really made the news. So I found the transcript, and Pompeo had outlined five lines of effort for a Clean Internet:

First, Clean Carrier. We are working to ensure that untrusted Chinese telecom companies don’t provide international telecommunications services between the United States and foreign destinations.

Second, we call Clean Store. We want to see untrusted Chinese apps removed from U.S. app stores.

Third, Clean Apps. We’re working to prevent Huawei and other untrusted vendors from pre-installing or making available for download the most popular U.S. apps. We don’t want companies to be complicit in Huawei’s human rights abuses or the CCP’s surveillance apparatus.

Fourth, Clean Cloud. We’re protecting Americans’ most sensitive personal information and our businesses’ most valuable intellectual property – including COVID vaccine research – from being accessed on cloud-based systems run by companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, China Mobile, China Telecom, and Tencent.

Fifth and finally, Clean Cable. We’re working to ensure that the CCP can’t compromise information carried by the undersea cables that connect our country and others to the global internet.

Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, in a speech on August 5, 2020.

This list doesn’t resemble censorship. Nowhere in the list does the U.S. censor information from other countries, prevent people from being critical of the United States, or otherwise interfere with other countries operations. It narrowly targets tech Chinese companies with known issues while leaving an open door to every other nation. It highlights some significant problems like stealing of COVID vaccine research that not enough people are tracking.

There is this libertarian view that a free and open internet means government’s should have no role whatsoever in the internet. There are plenty of flaws with this idea. The largest flaw is that this view fails to act when an entity like the Chinese Communist Party seeks to dismantle the Internet and subvert it for its own good. The BBC would perhaps brush this off as “market forces,” and to be sure, the UK has stood on the sidelines while China filters Hong Kong’s internet and even the internet at UK universities.

Perhaps better said in the movie Team America: World Police: “Freedom isn’t free.”

You can, and should, limit government involvement and allow the market to drive innovation, but when an obviously dark force threatens to break the freedom of information on the internet, you must act to stop it.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

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