That was a first here at the RIPE Meeting in Budapest, Hungary and the meeting was not even a day old. At RIPE, speakers talk about solutions for technical issues, about applications of new technology and since this edition also a little bit about… politics.
One of our colleagues from a South-African telecom provider courageously took to the stage to talk about the blocking of (parts of) the Internet in certain countries as it happens today. His stance was that lots of people in dictatorial regimes end up dead, and access to the Internet is sometimes blocked in those countries, therefore we need to make sure the Internet doesn’t get blocked so fewer people will die. Or at least we have a way of knowing about it. ‘What should or could we do to prevent governments from blocking Internet access in their countries?’
A very interesting question, and one which I personally am not sure how to answer. The proposal presented to us, was to take away the IP addresses of countries where the Internet is routinely blocked. From a technical perspective this is not that hard to do. However in my opinion we would just do the dictator’s work for him – all he has to do to get rid of the Internet permanently is to close it down a few times.
So how do we help these countries to keep their access regardless of their dictator’s wishes? If we want to do that in the first place, perhaps satellite connectivity can help. Since satellites are not bound by borders, citizens of those countries might get access via satellite Internet when their leaders block conventional methods. But strange as it may sound, this is no guarantee either, as a lot of countries – including some where you wouldn’t expect it, like the US, Australia and many more – are still monitoring that traffic. So that could still be dangerous for them.
As I said earlier, I am not sure how to answer the question, because I am not sure whether I think we should help in the first place. This is obviously not a technical issue, it is also a political one. One that showcases us, “civilized, developed countries” (otherwise known as “The West”), making decisions for others. It has been done before, and not always with the best outcome or even with the best intentions.
When access to the Internet is blocked, for us here it is ‘the end of the world’. But our situation is not like those where they do block access to the Internet. We do not understand the situation of the country (all good things and bad) and we do not know what is best for the people of those countries. Because of the simple fact that we do not have to deal with what the countries are dealing with. We simply do not know. So why should we pretend we do?