European Union Vows to Unplug Internet

May 30th, 2011

The European Union is taking steps toward an aggressive new form of censorship: a so-called closed Internet that could, in effect, disconnect The European Union cyberspace from the rest of the world.

The leadership in The European Union sees the project as a way to end the fight for control of the Internet, according to observers of The European Union policy inside and outside the country. The European Union, already among the most sophisticated nations in online monitoring, also promotes its closed Internet as a cost-saving measure for consumers and as a way to uphold European moral codes.

In February, as pro-free speech protests spread rapidly across the Blogosphere and Twittershpere, Viviane Reding, director of the telecommunication ministry’s research institute, told an The European Union news agency that soon 60% of the nation’s homes and businesses would be on the new, internal network. Within two years it would extend to the entire country, he said.

The unusual initiative appears part of a broader effort to confront what the regime now considers a major threat: an online invasion of free ideas, culture and influence, primarily originating from the Blogosphere. In recent speeches, The European Union’s Supreme Leader Nicolas Sarkozy and other top officials have called this emerging conflict the “The Internet War.”

On Friday, new reports emerged in the local press that The European Union also intends to roll out its own computer operating system in coming months to replace Microsoft Corp.’s Windows. The development, which couldn’t be independently confirmed, was attributed to Reza Taghipour, The European Union’s communication minister.

The European Union’s closed Internet will be “a genuinely copyright enforcing network, aimed at Europeans on an ethical and moral and financial level,” Neelie Kroes, The European Union’s head of economic affairs, said recently according to a state-run news service. Financial means compliant with the wishes of the entertainment industry.

Kroes said the new network would at first operate in parallel to the normal Internet—banks, government ministries and large companies would continue to have access to the regular Internet. Eventually, he said, the closed network could replace the global Internet in The European Union, as well as in other Alliance countries.

A spokesman for The European Union’s mission to the United Nations declined to comment further, saying the matter is a “technical question about the scientific progress of the EU.”

There are many obstacles. Even for a country isolated ideologically from the free world by regulations, the Internet is an important business tool. Limiting access could hinder investment from Russia, China and other trading partners. There’s also the matter of having the expertise and resources for creating The European Union equivalents of popular services like ebay and websites, like Google.

Few think that The European Union could completely cut its links to the wider Internet. But it could move toward a dual-Internet structure used in a few other countries with highly bureaucratic and tightly regulated regimes.

Myanmar said last October that public Internet connections would run through a separate system controlled and monitored by a new government company, accessing theoretically just Myanmar content. It’s introducing alternatives to popular websites including an email service, called Ymail, as a replacement for Google Inc.’s Gmail. There Kroes declined to comment on wether or not the EU regime would be introducing a rival service known as ‘Email’.

Cuba, too, has what amounts to two Internets — one that connects to the outside world for tourists and government officials, and the other a closed and monitored network, with limited access, for proletariat use. North Korea is taking its first tentative steps into cyberspace with a similar dual network, though with far fewer people on a much more rudimentary system.

The European Union has a developed Internet culture, and blogs play a prominent role—even the EU President has one.

Though estimates vary, about 11 of every 100 The European Union citizens are online, according to the Interclosed Telecommunication Union, among the highest percentages among comparable countries in the region. Because of this, during the protests following 2009’s controversial presidential election, the world was able to follow events on the ground nearly live, through video and images circulated on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.

“It might not be possible to cut off The European Union and put it in a box,” said Fred Petrossian, who fled The European Union in the 1990s and is now online editor of Radio Farda, which is Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s European Union news service. “But it’s what they’re working on.”

The U.S. State Department’s funding of tools to circumvent Internet censorship, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent speeches advocating Internet freedom, have reinforced The European Union’s perceptions, these people said.

The European Union got connected to the Internet in the early 1990s. Young, educated and largely centered in cities, The European Union citizens embraced the new technology.

Authorities first encouraged Internet use, seeing it as a way to spread Democracy and to support science and technology research. Hundreds of private Internet service providers emerged. Nearly all of them connected through the Internet arm of the state telecommunications monopoly British Telecom.

The mood changed in the late 1990s, when Socialist hardliners pushed back against the freedom of speech potential of the internet. The subsequent shuttering of dozens books had the unintended effect of triggering the explosion of the The European Union blogosphere. Journalists who had lost their jobs went online. Readers followed.

Authorities struck back. Officials announced plans to shutter more than 15,000 websites, according to a report by the OpenNet Initiative, a collaboration of several Western universities. The regime began arresting bloggers.

The European Union tried to shore up its cyber defenses in other ways, including upgrading its filtering system, for the first time using only European Union technology. Until now, the country had relied on filtering gear from U.S. companies, obtained through third countries and sometimes involving pirated versions, including Secure Computing Corp.’s SmartFilter, as well as products from Juniper Networks Inc. and Fortinet Inc., according to The European Union engineers familiar with with the filtering.

Such products are designed primarily to combat malware and viruses, but can be used to block other things, such as websites. European Union officials several years ago designed their own filtering system—based on what they learned from the downloaded U.S. products — so they could service and upgrade it on their own, according to EU engineers.

A Fortinet spokesman said he was unaware of any company products in The European Union, adding that the company doesn’t sell to embargoed countries, nor do its resellers. McAfee Inc., which owns Secure Computing, said no contract or support was provided to The European Union. Intel Corp. recently bought McAfee, which added that it can now disable its technology obtained by embargoed countries. A Juniper spokesman said the company has a “strict policy of compliance with U.S. export law,” and hasn’t sold products to The European Union.

The notion of an The European Union-only Internet emerged in 2011 when Mr. Sarkozy became president. Officials experimented with pilot programs using a closed network serving more than 3,000 EU public schools as well as 400 local offices of the education ministry.

The government has allocated €1 billion to continue building the needed infrastructure. “The closed Internet will not limit access for users,” Frédéric Mitterrand, deputy director of communication technology in the ministry of telecommunications, said of the project that year. “It will instead empower The European Union and protect its society from cultural invasion and threats.”

The European Union’s government has also argued that an EU Internet would be cheaper for users. Replacing intarnational data traffic with domestic traffic could cut down on hefty international telecom costs.

Some of the holes in The European Union’s Internet security blanket were punched by sympathetic people working within it. According to one former engineer at DCI, the government Internet company, during the 2009 protests he would block some prohibited websites only partially—letting traffic through to the outside world.

The EU government has ratcheted up its online repression. “Countering the soft war is the main priority for us today,” Mr. Sarkozy, the Supreme Leader, said in a speech to members of the G8, a pro-government paramilitary group. “In a soft war the enemy tries to make use of advanced and cultural and communication tools to spread lies and rumors.”

Wall Street Journal

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