Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Is Internet in danger of becoming 'splinternet'?

By MIchael Hayden, CNN Contributor
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden poses with German Green party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Stroebele in Moscow on October 31. Stroebele returned from the meeting with a letter from Snowden to German authorities, which was distributed to the media. In it, Snowden said he is confident that with international support, the United States would abandon its efforts to "treat dissent as defection" and "criminalize political speech with felony charges." National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden poses with German Green party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Stroebele in Moscow on October 31. Stroebele returned from the meeting with a letter from Snowden to German authorities, which was distributed to the media. In it, Snowden said he is confident that with international support, the United States would abandon its efforts to "treat dissent as defection" and "criminalize political speech with felony charges."
HIDE CAPTION
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hayden: Snowden revelations raised questions about data collection, surveillance
  • He says some nations leveraging this to change Web's governance, control citizens
  • He says this would let them subvert "free expression" on the Web, counter to its nature
  • Hayden: If "splinternet" happens, U.S. will have helped cause it with "sins" real, imagined

Editor's note: Gen. Michael V. Hayden, a former National Security Agency director who was appointed by President George W. Bush as CIA director in 2006 and served until February 2009, is a principal with the Chertoff Group, a security consulting firm. He is on the boards of several defense firms and is a distinguished visiting professor at George Mason University.

(CNN) -- The serial revelations by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who stole and leaked classified government information, have ignited a variety of disputes in the United States and around the world.

Is the collection of metadata, detailed records of phone calls and other communications, as benign or as malignant as it has been portrayed? What are the proper limits in conducting electronic surveillance of geopolitical allies or of ordinary citizens? How much government espionage activity must be publicly available to really give meaning to the concept of "consent of the governed"? Is it appropriate to secretly compel private enterprise to assist in intelligence collection?

Tough questions all, but they give rise to another even more important one. Will the Internet as we know it survive the barrage of headlines and accusations?

Michael Hayden
Michael Hayden

As commonplace as the net has become, it's hard for even older folks to remember the world before we all became wired. And younger generations don't even try to picture that benighted universe.

But the net is recent, the product of visionaries like Vinton Cerf and his colleagues at Stanford in the early 1970s; they developed the Internet's original protocols for the Department of Defense so department labs and a few universities could pass among themselves large volumes of data quickly and easily. The World Wide Web that would take off from that Defense Department start would be a multistakeholder enterprise: nongovernmental, collaborative and (certainly at its origin) largely American.

The Americans (i.e., the various Internet governance structures, like ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, anchored in the United States and operating under a contract with the U.S. government) proved good stewards, nurturing an enterprise that was ubiquitous, free, unitary, egalitarian and democratic. Information has never flowed as freely or in such volume as it does today, enabling global commerce and global expression on an unprecedented scale.

And in that, the Web was consistent with the traditional American emphasis on free enterprise and free speech, values not universally shared in today's world.

NSA surveillance revelations
Sen. Paul files suit against NSA, Obama
Boss: Snowden worst spy in U.S. history

As Americans fret about the theft of personal information and intellectual property and the threat of cyberattack (dark forces leveraging the Web's ubiquity and connectivity for dark purposes), others are attacking the very essence of the network. They are less concerned about theft and more concerned that their citizens can access information -- any information -- as well as make their voices heard globally.

In December 2012, Russia and China pushed very hard at a meeting in Dubai of the World Conference for International Telecommunications to wrest "control" of the Internet from its traditional governance structures (increasingly international but still with a strong American flavor) and hand it to this U.N.-sponsored body. Their apparent purpose was to make it easier for them to impose controls on their digital "territory" and on their citizens, to transfer to cyberdomain authorities control they had long exercised in physical space.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his co-author Jared Cohen anticipated this in their thought provoking work, "The New Digital Age," in which they warned of the Balkanization of the Web, with countries establishing "sovereignty" over their digital domains and demanding the digital equivalents of visas and passports before allowing entry to their national domains, and, in the case of their own citizens, exit.

Indeed, they proved prescient as countries like Brazil and Indonesia are already establishing digital "residency requirements," demanding that prospective cloud service providers retain data only on servers in their sovereign space, a requirement that flies in the face of the very nature and inherent advantages of a global Web.

At the 2012 Dubai conference, the Russians and the Chinese got strong support from places like Iran and the Arab world, but garnered support from 89 countries, falling short of the two thirds required.

And now enters Snowden. It actually doesn't matter how accurate or inaccurate, precise or overdrawn, the headlines are as they allege that the United States and Britain are taking unconstrained advantage of the Web for espionage. (I, for one, doubt that NSA and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters, are actually that interested in the personal data of the 1.5 billion people who have downloaded Angry Birds, to cite but one recent accusation.)

But the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians and others will use these headlines to buttress their case and to undercut Western arguments based on free expression and free access to information.

The next meeting of the International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. agency, is in Busan this October and prospects are not good for holding the line on the multistakeholder model of Internet governance, as governments demand more direct control. The current phrase to describe that development is "splinternet" and if that occurs we will be faced with multiple ironies.

The United States, the creator of the Web as we know it, will have hastened its end through its espionage sins, real or imagined.

And Edward Snowden, who by all accounts is a near constant habituƩ of that idyllic universe, will have lit the fuse of its destruction.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Hayden.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT