War is a bad time to mess with the internet

Like most people, we at the EFF are horrified by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Also, like most people, we are not experts in military strategy or international diplomacy. But we have some expertise with the Internet and civil liberties, which is why we are deeply concerned that governments around the world are pressuring Internet companies to interfere with fundamental Internet infrastructure. Tinkering with the Internet as part of a political or military response risks backfiring in multiple ways.

There is already a lot of pressure on social media platforms. Russia requires various companies, from Facebook to Google and Netflix, to broadcast its state-sponsored content. The European Union, in an unprecedented move, has decided to ban the broadcasting and distribution of content by these media throughout the European Union, and Ukraine is calling on the European Commission to do more.

But now the Ukrainian government has calls on ICANN to disconnect Russia from the Internet by revoking its top-level domain names, “.ru”, “.рф” and “.su” from the root zone, with the aim of restoring access to websites and e -mails equally difficult for people outside as well as inside Russia. Ukraine has also contacted RIPE, one of five regional registries for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia, asking the organization to revoke IP address delegation to Russia.

In practice, some of these calls are nearly impossible; ICANN can’t just push a button and start an offline country; RIPE cannot simply revoke IP addresses. But these are not the only problems: redesigning the fundamental protocols of the Internet infrastructure is likely to lead to a multitude of dangerous and long-lasting consequences.

Here are a few:

  • It robs people of the most powerful tool to share information when they need it most.

While the internet can be used to spread misinformation, it also enables everyone, including activists, human rights defenders, journalists and ordinary citizens, to document and share the facts in real time and resist the propaganda. Indeed, Russia has reportedly been trying for years to “disconnect” from the internet so that it can completely control communications in the country. Internet service providers should not help the Russian government, or any other government, to keep people in an information bubble.

  • This sets a dangerous precedent

The intervention pathways, once established, will provide state and sponsored actors with additional tools to control public dialogue. Once the processes and tools to remove the expression are developed or extended, companies can expect a flood of requests to apply them, inevitably on the word that these tools were not originally designed. , and which the companies did not initially intend to target. At the platform level, state and state-sponsored actors have long armed signaling tools to silence dissent.

  • This compromises everyone’s security and privacy

Any attempt to compromise the infrastructure of the Internet will affect the security of the Internet and its users. For example, IP address revocation means that things like Routing Policy Specification Language (RPSL), which ISPs use to describe their routing policies, and Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI), which is used to improve the security of Internet BGP routing infrastructure, would be severely compromised. This would expose users to man-in-the-middle attacks, compromise day-to-day activities such as banking, and compromise privacy because users would have nowhere to hide.

  • It undermines trust in the network and the policies on which it is based

Trust is paramount in how networks self-organize and interact with other networks. This is what guarantees a resilient global communications infrastructure that can withstand pandemics and wars. This confidence depends, in turn, on imperfect but laborious multi-stakeholder process develop neutral policies, rules and institutional mechanisms. Bypassing these mechanisms irreparably undermines the trust on which the Internet is built.

We were relieved to see that I CAN and WALL have refused to comply with Ukrainian government demands, and we hope that other infrastructure organizations will follow suit. In times of crisis, we are often tempted to take previously unthinkable actions. We should resist that temptation here and take proposals like these completely off the table. In dark times, people must be able to reach the light, reassure their loved ones, inform themselves and others, and escape the walls of propaganda and censorship. The Internet is a crucial tool for all of this – don’t mess with it.