State of internet censorship: Is the global web becoming less connected?

With countries like Iran and Russia attempting to cut themselves off from the rest of the internet, are we witnessing the dawn of the splintered internet?

Since the internet was first conceived, it has—at least theoretically—operated under the guise of a completely open and non-discriminatory forum of interconnected digital citizens. Its initial creators engineered the internet to be open, with transparent standards and software and data that is portable, extensible and interoperable. The concepts of open architectures and freedom of access form a fundamental part of why the internet is so successful today, going all the way back to ARPANET (the precursor to the internet) when open access to basic documents was a key driver of its rapid growth.

However, in recent years, the internet has not held up its ‘open and fair' reputation globally. While for most of the world, the internet is still relatively uncensored and open, there have been a few instances where the urge to control ideas and exercise the authority and power of nation-states has taken priority above any notions of a freely accessible internet.

China is undoubtedly the worst offender when it comes to employing this authoritarian approach. The country's surveillance- and censorship-focused "great firewall" has a global reputation for frequently and systematically removing undesirable content and silencing dissent. It has also recently been cracking down on the use of Virtual Private Networks, which have served as the only workaround for both tourists and citizens for accessing anything beyond what the government permits, including most of the major US big tech platforms.   

Although China isn't the only country that is actively engaging in activities to place limitations on its internet. Iran recently announced that its national information network (INN) - which is essentially an isolated domestic intranet -  is 80% complete', with the country already blocking access to tens of thousands of websites and social media services including Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, Egypt has been ramping up its powers over the use of the internet in the country, recently ratifying a new law that allows them to block websites in the name of security, and arresting bloggers and journalists known to be critical of the government.

Perhaps one of the most notable recent developments where internet control is concerned, though, is around Russia's ‘Internet Law', or Runet. The legislation, which has been signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, puts requirements on Russian ISPs to install equipment that routes traffic through servers inside its borders. While, again, it has been flagged by proponents as a defence measure - meaning Russia would remain self-sufficient if a ‘foreign power' cuts off its internet - critics have suggested the move is purely aimed at increasing the state's power over information.

These are just a few recent developments that have dragged down internet freedoms over the past year, and with many alarming trends persisting in a range of different countries around the world, there is a fear that the internet is becoming fundamentally splintered. However, thinking about Russia latest move and China's distinctive approach, is the internet actually being torn at the seams?

Implications of Russia's move

To continue reading this article register now