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A Sea of Uncertainty: The Future and The Internet

As we return from spring break and reluctantly resume our daily routines, start the week with Konstantine’s post on the future of the Internet.

With our tiny hands gripping the warm metal door handles of our minivan, my twin brother and I would desperately wait to hear the liberating beep and rescuing click that signaled their unlocking. When we were finally able to slide the doors open, all we saw in front of us was the clear blue ocean, begging us to dive in. Despite our jubilation and state of captivation with the sea and sand before us, we knew all too well what was to come: ”STOP!” As my mother whitened our bodies with SPF 70, us vehemently resisting her every attempt to apply “just a little bit more,” my father would slowly walk toward us — towels and toys in tote. Before we made our mad dash across the hot sand and into the cool waters of the Mediterranean, my father knelt down and stared into the eyes of my brother and I.  He would repeat a phrase, one I thought I understood until now: “The sea is selective, slow at recognition of effort and aptitude, but fast in sinking the unfit.”

My father was a Merchant Marine and graduate of Fort Schuyler Maritime Academy, where every cadet was required to learn this phrase by heart.  Whenever he would repeat it to my brother and I, I would ask him what he meant. Instead of breaking down the quote word by word, my father would cut straight to the point: Be alert and be prepared for anything.

I eventually memorized this quote, just as my father had — perhaps due to the amount of times we had gone to the beach when I younger. However, as a student studying international relations in the 21st century, this quote still resonates with me, but now on a different level. In observing the world around me, I realize that it is similar to the sea that my father spoke of: “…selective, slow at recognition of effort and aptitude, but fast in sinking the unfit.” With competition for international power and authority on the rise, it is important to understand that in order for this nation to metaphorically stay “fit,” it must remain alert and prepared to respond to any threat that may arise.

According to, in wake of the revelations brought about by Edward Snowden with regards to the NSA’s Internet surveillance strategies, the United States has agreed to relinquish control over the Internet’s Domain Name System, which translates numerical addresses into recognizable Internet names. The move would ultimately turn over the Department of Commerce’s ability to distribute the numbers that make up Internet addresses — primarily through the use of the non-profit organization, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which facilitates this process— to another entity not specified yet. This comes as other nations are beginning to pressure the United States into allowing for more international oversight in monitoring worldwide communications.

Overall, the private sector seems optimistic about the transition. In a statement provided to TIME, Vint Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist wrote, “The Internet was built to be borderless and this move toward a more multistakeholder model of governance creates an opportunity to preserve its security, stability and openness.” However, not everyone agrees with Cerf. Many feel that this “openness” poses a threat to national security. Former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich tweeted last Friday: “Every American should worry about Obama giving up control of the Internet to an undefined group. This is very, very dangerous.” Despite their differences, both sides recognize that the transition that the government has agreed to make is sure to have implications for Internet security.

With the U.S. becoming the target of more cyber crime and terrorism plots, it is reasonable to question whether any reduction in America’s ability to monitor the Internet will prove to hinder its overall capability to protect itself against threats. Now that the U.S is slowly losing power over the Internet, who will take over? Despite its goals to allow for more oversight, should the U.S. concede security for transparency?

According to the Wall Street Journal, “…this is a concession by the U.S. While the Commerce Department rarely intervened publicly in ICANN’s affairs, the implicit threat of its ability to do so will be gone.” Although the U.S. has long expressed its intentions to eventually open control of Internet operations to the rest of the world, given the new threats that exist today, this may be imprudent. The article in the Wall Street Journal goes on to say that the transition “…could have an unforeseen impact in the future, particularly if cyber weapons continue to play a larger role in military and counter-intelligence activities.”

In a sea of uncertainty and in an ever-changing international landscape, it is vital for this country to remain fit to compete. Although the U.S. may be eager to finally resolve its NSA fiasco, perhaps it needs my mother’s “STOP!” and my father’s reminder. Countries with power will stay afloat, while countries that are unprepared to respond to threats to this power will be quick to sink. Concessions, no matter how righteous they may seem, have consequences. Can the U.S. afford to make this concession and hand over the Internet?

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