IGF 2022 Day 1 Lightning Talk #1 The weaponization of internet infrastructure

The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.



>> JUAN ORTIZ FREULER: Basically, I will be describing three phases of internet governance taking the perspective of the U.S. government. And then I will be discussing the concept of renetworking which I think is what we're going through at this point which is being shaped by lock outs and blockages. And lastly, I will share with you a brief conclusion. So the core question that I'm trying to assess is how did we get from global information system to idea of a clean network which is what I think we're going towards now?

So in 1994, U.S. vice president Al Gore stated legislators, regulators and business people must do this. Build and operate a global information infrastructure. This will circle the globe with information superhighways on which all people can travel. In 2020, Michael Pompeo stated we call on all freedom-loving nations and companies to join the clean network. It's the idea we commonly discuss as fragmentation is not a bug but a feature of the redesigning of our global information system as it's being promoted by the U.S. government at this space.

So in terms of key definitions, I think one of the core questions is around governance. So I will be discussing governance in terms of De Nardis definition which is the exercise of power to enact a certain set of public interest goals. And I will be discussing internet governance in terms of the world -- World Summit for Information Society. Stated the development and application by the governments, the private sector and the civil society in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the internet. Underlying these two definitions are two big questions at the center of what is being discussed at IGF. Who is being represented and how are their interests being balanced?

And how do the answers to these questions change over time as the internet evolves? We're discussing internet governance. It's a matter of what is internet and governance and how the two definitions interact.

So as I was mentioning, the core argument of the paper is that there are three phases of internet governance. The first one is this of a global information infrastructure that goes from 1990 to 2001. And is basically the quote that I was sharing. Where it was proclaimed the internet would be a shared and global resource for human and economic development. After the twin tower attacks, however, what we saw was the consolidation towards a network global intelligence infrastructure. Where the U.S. allowed the market to consolidate around a handful of multi-national companies. And where it leveraged multi-national companies to forward narrow geopolitical goals. We will see the department of defense starts pulling data from its targets and start seeing the department of state push data into countries that are trying to stop that data from circulating. After 2016 with the victory of Donald Trump, we saw renetworking towards post-global information structure. Says 2021 but should be ongoing. Give me a moment. There we go.

And so basically, in this third phase, what we see is the U.S. is undermining global mechanisms. And the department of treasury is deploying cut powers creating digital lock outs through which it shapes the process of renetworking. So throughout the presentation, you will see QR codes. Simply for you to access the paper as such in case you would like to see the references or the graphs. And so these three powers, as mentioned, are being promoted and leveraged by three different departments within the U.S. government. So I argue the department of defense, the department of state and department of treasury are deploying different powers, often, in contradiction in ways that do not help the other department operate. And that is why we see these powers being enacted in a way that is sometimes contradictory and chaotic. For example, a digital lock out is being promoted by the department of treasury and that is scaled back shortly. This was the case of Adobe where the department of treasury announced the department of treasury was having them cut access. And before it was enacted, they were given permission to continue operating in Venezuela. And one would assume what is happening is the department of state and department of defense are in conversation with people at the department of treasury. And so, these powers are being leveraged characteristically. In phase two, pull powers and push powers. You can access this through the paper in the QR. So in phase one, what we see is this post nation state infrastructure. We're going to have a network society. And so we see the web is being released into the public domain. The U.S. Department of Justice opens an investigation. Al Gore announces this information infrastructure at ITU. And we see the launching of many companies that have become core to the infrastructure. Amazon, e-Bay, at that point, internet explorer, for example. There was this idea that the internet would be a shared open resource global on a post-nation infrastructure.

In phase 2, the U.S. government allowed market to consolidate around U.S. corporations. We saw the internet is reconceptualized. One through which information -- so this is prism, Patriot Act. And targets trying to limit the circulation. And we see the launch of tour, open tech funds. Tools in the hands of the department of state. So it is essential to the effectiveness of the push and pull power. 43% of the world population is using the internet. And so I want to underline the consolidation may not have been planned. It is essential to the effectiveness of the push and pull powers. In his book permanent record, so much of the infrastructure is under U.S. control. Over 90% of the world's internet traffic passes through technologies, developed, owned and/or operated by the American government and American businesses most of which are physically located on American territory. This is one of the slides released by the Washington post. And so we can see at the top left it says the U.S. as world's telecommunications backbone. In the first phase, this was global information infrastructure. The way it was being framed at this point by the intelligence community was that this was the backbone -- the U.S. was operating as the world's backbone. Flipped that idea on its head. And what we also see is that with $20 million per year, prism was getting access of content of hundreds of millions of people. Listed there are some of the companies that are core to the way in which most people across the world engage over the internet. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple.

So in phase 3 from 2016 to the present, what we see is scaling back. Trump withdraws the U.S. from the TPP trade deal. The WTO fails to deliver preferred U.S. outcomes on digital trade. Huawei and ZTE equipment banned from being used in the U.S. and spreads towards Europe, for example. The U.S. bans Iranians from accessing GitHub, AWS, U.S. bans and goes back in terms of Venezuela from accessing Adobe. Google pulls Android license. And we see, for example, the EU court invalidates the EU-US data protection shield. And a number of other actions. The relative decrease in the U.S. user basis is a proportion of the user base. And failure to assert the unilateral control in the existing forum. So this leads to a fall out with the big tech companies that are now seeing that the U.S. doesn't provide a large part of users. And the U.S. government is not being able to depend. While it's asking for a lot of favors that some of these other countries might consider problematic.

So as I was saying, the U.S. went from representing almost 80% of internet users in 1990 to around 7.5% in 2022. China went from representing 0% to internet users in 1994 to 20% in 2022. So keep base with the communities they seek to serve. So one of the concerns is the push and pull networks that are now central to department of defense and department of state could fall into the wrong hands. So created this machine and that machine could become unresponsive and start responding to some other power. So states Mr. Zuckerberg made the claim Facebook is an American company with American values. Do any of the rest of you take a different view?

That is to say that your companies don't embrace American values. So everyone's nodding and then he says it's great to see that none of you do. Mr. Pichai, I'm worried about Google's market power, how it concentrates that power, and then how it wields it. My question is did you weigh the input from your employees when making the decision to abandon project Maven with the United States military?

And Pichai, CEO of Google responds thanks for your concern. As I said earlier, we are deeply committed to supporting the military and the U.S. government. Which is a U.S. representative bullying the CEO of a major company into restating the fact that he is pledging to these other machines. And so the Trump administration and handling of this department of state is so it's a mirror. The U.S. is trying to create a firewall around China. And so what we can see is that these lock outs and blockages are controlled demolition tools. The internet is always and only becoming. We should understand this process of renetworking as similar to this sport of curling. Each action is a minor sweep towards the renetworking away from notes that might be beyond the U.S. control. For every action, we see a reaction. We see GitHub confirms blocked developers in Iran. Russia starts testing its own internal internet. We see Beijing orders state offices to replace foreign PCs and software. Facebook creates exception that allows users to call for the killing of Putin and Russian soldiers. Russia immediately blocks access to Facebook.

So in conclusion, what I argue is that we shouldn't understand fragmentation as a full decoupling but the networking that shapes the topography that modify the flow of data between different actors. And the U.S. is under mining the global internet out of having a powerful machine against it. Understand China, India and others has become critical to economy and society. Over which they have leverage through existing mechanisms. And other smaller countries that bought into phase 1, this idea of the global internet infrastructure. And we might see coalitions emerge. A lot of talks about the bricks at this point and how that might play for smaller countries. Also might see the resurgence of something like non-aligned technology movement. And antitrust efforts could operate as -- I'll open now for questions, comments and suggestions. That is my email, my Twitter handle. And through that, you can access the paper.

Thank you so much. Let me know if you have questions or comments. Happy to take them through the chat or you can speak up if you prefer.

>> Thanks. Great presentation. Looking forward to reading the paper. What do you mean in your conclusion?

Can you expound on the machine that the U.S. is worried about having turned against it?

>> JUAN ORTIZ FREULER: Yes. So the process that happened throughout the second phase is one that allowed the U.S. government to leverage this centralization for two purposes. On the one hand, if everyone is using Facebook and g-mail, the U.S. government can access information by leveraging the centralized internet. Can more easily push data into countries that might be trying to limit circulation. GitHub is being leveraged by non-profits to push information into China. Why?

If China wants to block the circulation, has to block as a whole. Means that China has to choose whether it blocks as a whole or allows information to be circulating as being promoted by the department of state. Does that answer your question?

So the risk that perhaps the U.S. government is seeing is the actors might stop responding. So we have seen over the past couple of months that some of these companies have become more responsive to other governments.

Last year, Microsoft with the search engine had blocked images of tank man. Or we have seen recently that apple limited the use of airdrop in China. We see that some of these companies are starting to respond to the questions of other countries. In this case, China in ways the U.S. wouldn't have expected ten years ago. The question would be if either these companies themselves or equivalent start responding to the interest of other countries would be detriment to other interest. One of the strategies the U.S. might try to deploy is curtail governments so they can't exercise that influence over companies that have become so central.

>> So as a follow-up question, is that what the U.S. might be worried about with data flows in their own firewall?

>> JUAN ORTIZ FREULER: Exactly. What is precisely what is happening. They are the leading company in terms of 5G technology. One of the concerns is that in the coming years, would be the equivalent of some of those companies that it listed in its slide deck. So if it becomes central, one, will not be within the U.S. control and so it wouldn't be one of the companies supplying with pulling data and pushing data. At the same time, it might be providing government of China with similar capabilities. That's why I argue the more interesting or more useful approach on one that should be promoted through a forum like IGF is technological disarmament. Shouldn't have companies that have such control they can be used in this way. I see that we have participant online with their hand up. Do you want me to read the question, or should I read it myself?

>> You can read the question.

>> JUAN ORTIZ FREULER: Okay. So what is the relationship between the unilateral coercive measure in the digital world and internet fragmentation? Access, digital resources, technology and capacity building that are being applied by some states against other nations, that could be a great barrier towards development goals and constitutes violation of human rights obligation. I think this course of measures are growing. In the paper I document the degree to which the U.S. has increased the number of sanctions -- the use of sanctions. In the past 20 years, this has gone up by 933% if I recall correctly. In many cases, these are unilateral sanctions meaning the U.S. government is deploying them unilaterally. And I think this is highly problematic for internet governance as such. And it also explains in my opinion why we're seeing this renetworking. It's not simply that the U.S. is promoting renetworking. As we were seeing through some of the examples that other countries cause they see it as a systemic risk to their economies and politics.

It's not simply out of concern of the U.S. government but centralization creates critical risk more broadly. We saw a couple months ago, central to Korea. Everything in Korea goes through Cocotak (phonetic). They were calculating the loss in the millions of dollars. So we see that this centralization is problematic even beyond the risks entailed by the pull and push powers of a great power. If the session facilitator could you not mute Adam that has his hand up.

>> Hello. I was just wondering if you could share your thoughts -- first of all, thank you for this interesting thesis and paper. I look forward to reading it. The EU is trying to pass all of these pieces of legislation in order to gain back some of the power over the internet that it didn't have in phase 2. How do you see those efforts fitting into this picture?

>> JUAN ORTIZ FREULER: I think that's precisely what we're seeing now. The question is what do those efforts look like?

If we move into a future which every country is setting up a firewall, because it sees it's a risk to use a company like Facebook. Because they see Facebook as a propaganda machine, going to be highly problematic. Whatever the EU starts to set up, other countries start to see in the same way. Best way forward, one we agree that we set boundaries on the use of these tools. But we can still communicate with each other. So that requires agreed upon standards. And has to incorporate that.

One of the things I find interesting is it's taking measures that could be seen as favoring its own business. Doing so in a way that's not framing it. But in terms of privacy. And so what is likely to happen is countries will start hosting data within the EU. And so it will give the EU certain capabilities that are now in the hands of the U.S. government. And so that is going to become problematic unless we set up red lines enforceable agreements around that. Who could be done I think we need clear lines in terms of how these technologies can be used. We should look into the idea. On the one hand, it requires promoting antitrust in the U.S. and abroad. I think going the right direction. We should hope to see something similar on the side of the U.S. and perhaps that could be interpreted on the one hand within the U.S. as a way to enable robust democracy. It's incompatible with monopoly power. And we could understand that monopolies are incompatible with a multi-Stakeholder model. And that is something that the internet governance forum and UN, in general, could take moving forward.

>> Hello, thank you very much for your presentation. My name is Deanna. I'm from Jordan. Wondering if you can give your thoughts on the use of American infrastructure in war zones in places where all forms of democracy the U.S. advocates for tends to be absent. For example, there are places in Syria where the government is absent. Very present among the people self-organizing. I was curious about your thoughts on this.

>> JUAN ORTIZ FREULER: Could you add more detail, if you don't mind?

>> Yes, of course. It seems like the American infrastructure of the internet is regulated by the so-called American values and so on. Then it's also used in places where there is war human right abusers and no control over this infrastructure. So does this contradict the essential users of this?

And how do these people view this?

>> JUAN ORTIZ FREULER: On the one hand, what we see from the companies, they express they lack the resources monitoring what is happening. This is not a good response. Want to operate globally and should be able to operate across the world. But I do think you strike one of the issues at the core. And I think it's at the core of the global debates right now which is how are we going to have global companies in a way that might not be aligned with the interests of people that live in other countries?

And at the core of the challenge where understanding some of these companies operate beyond these borders. At the same time, we have direct pressure. Then I think we see this model starts to crack. And that is something I'm trying to describe throughout the paper. And we will be seeing more of in the coming years.

>> Thank you.

>> JUAN ORTIZ FREULER: You're welcome. So session facilitator is flagging that we're almost out of time. I will try to quickly answer the question forwarded by Sergei who states. Does the international community recognize the need for new international agreements that harmonize the interaction and role of states, global companies in the ICT sector?

It could be useful to prevent using the internet in unilateral purposes. I think this is a great question for people who are currently at the IGF. And I think this is something that should be central to the conversations taking place there at this point. One of the starting points is around the Geneva conventions and how it applies to the context of war and broadening that beyond war. This happens at a regular basis. The pulling of information into jurisdictions where the U.S. government has an interest in terms of public diplomacy or propaganda.

So thank you very much for your participation and your presence. You can reach out to me over Twitter or find my contact details on my web site. Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to get to be with you.