, , , ,

Dear RIPE Executive Board,

I would like to call into question your decision of 28 Feb to simply dismiss Ukraine’s proposal to, in effect, cut Russia off of the internet.

In defending your decision you correctly point out that the historical standard of the internet has been that it should be open to all, and, in particular, that “the means to communicate should not be affected by domestic political disputes, international conflicts or war.” This is of a piece with claims about technological neutrality, that is, that technologies are not to blame for how people use them. While the underlying motives of your view are, I’m sure, good and noble, the effect in practice is not.

First, the internet simply is not, nor can be, politically neutral. It is a primary means for a great many people to obtain their day-to-day understanding of what’s going on in the world. For precisely that reason, it has become a target for many governments in their efforts to manipulate and control their own people and to mislead or destabilize other people. You know as well as anyone that access to the internet varies not just by wealth, education, etc., but also by direct political intervention. You would like to avoid the internet becoming an explicit target of political action because its administration takes sides in any conflict. That is a very reaosnable objective, but to pretend the internet is not already a target is duplicitous and unhelpful.

Of course, I agree that the more politically engaged the internet administration becomes, the greater the danger to an open internet. The risks and benefits of an intervention need to be carefully assessed, and it makes good sense to put the “burden of proof” on active interventions rather than maintaining neutrality. I am with you there. Unfortunately, you are not with yourself, if you accept that position, since nowhere in your letter reporting your decision is there any weight given to the costs of non-intervention. As far as your letter is concerned, there are no risks involved in letting Putin carry on with whatever he is doing. I think much of the rest of humanity disagrees.

Second, the underlying logic for technological neutrality is simply specious. It may be literally true that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” (ignoring AI, anyway). But the metaphorical reality is the opposite: guns enable killing and are hardly a neutral technology. This point is very widely accepted, if not by the NRA and its fellow travelers. Nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons are all examples of technologies coming out of 20th century science which people quite generally have demanded come under international controls, and do. There is little that is neutral about them, beyond the fact that they don’t themselves advocate an ideology. Anybody can use them to kill. However, those technologies are on a side: the side opposed to human life.

The internet can likewise be used to kill.

You may say the internet is just about humans communicating with humans. I hope you are not that naive. Means of communication have been the preferred means of controlling populaces since the beginning of nations, and that has not changed with the internet. It’s only become easier.

You suggest that a failure to maintain strict impartiality would “jeopardise the very model that has been key to the development of the Internet in our service region.” As I said above, I agree. Whatever you do will jeopardize that model, because that model is always going to be at risk. My question is whether you have even considered the risks associated with other alternatives. If Putin succeeds, not just locally in Ukraine, but globally in destabilizing both the international rule of law and democracies world-wide, what will become of your internet neutrality? It is at risk either way, and some risks are greater than others. You have not done a risk analysis and are probably incapable of doing one, especially not on behalf of all of your users.

Regards, K B Korb