The Coming Cyberwar: Could this Be the Future?
Think it can't happen here? Presenting a dystopian view on what happens when too much openness leads governments to regulate the internet.
The year, 2017. The cyberwar had ended. It had all started in the aftermath of the 2012 London Olympics. The device that started it all had been "detonated" by the hacktavists in the London underground using the generously provided free Wi-Fi service that had been flooded through the underground network for the Olympics. It wasn't a bomb -- it was something that would have much further-reaching effects.
It was clear that the unregulated internet was no longer an option that governments worldwide wanted to offer to the populace.
Some months later, at the World Conference on International Telecommunications event in Dubai in December 2012, the normally pro-liberalisation and pro-self-regulation British government turned tail, under enormous political pressure (lobbied by the content providers and security services), and signed Britain up to the changes in the International Telecommunications Regulations that enabled the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union to move into a position as the autocratic regulator of the internet.
With this, the U.N. had finally achieved what some had thought would never be possible: it actually united the world's governments. But it had done this by bringing them together against their own citizens.
The internet was positioned as being misused by the general public for such heinous crimes as "enabling public protest," "exposing corruption in the banking sector," and subsequently "destabilising the power bases of the wealthy."
Crimes such as "stealing industrial secrets" rendered entire government programmes of biological warfare virtually useless.
Leaked classified communications between government agencies exposed how wars were being contrived in order to define new mercantile borders, all for the benefit of those traders trading (with the government's blessing) over those borders.
All of these built to a crescendo that all governments realised were going to lead to a popular revolt against the political corruption that engulfed the world. Governments and power merchants were beginning to realise that the internet was going to disintermediate them.
Social media platforms were developing to become the new global parliaments. In the days of yore, when parliaments were formed, they had been an effective way to dupe the populace into believing that the individual had "a voice" in the way the world around them was run. This convenient folly allowed the powerful to get wealthier and even more powerful.
But as social media networks grew off the back of the internet, and the free voice of discontentment became louder and louder, the general public realised that actually only a tiny minority had any voice, and those "voices" were only in that political process for their own gratification and gain. So that same public began to create their own law, and their own structure. This new schism in political thinking, launched at www.facebook.com/pages/worldparliament -- a page that was published from a smartphone left glued under a tube train seat by an unknown remote operator, just as the Olympics kicked off. It went viral instantly, catching the mood not only in the U.K. but worldwide.
The outrage within the governments was obvious, but the subsequent "cyber riot" that took place added fuel to their fire. With the London Riot of 2011 fresh in mind, the government was intensely aggravated when the world parliament movement instantly attracted more members than the turnout at the previous election. That community, unlike the British government at the time, spoke almost universally with one voice.
Declaring the broadcasters and media of the day to be distorting the truth and purely protecting their benefactor (the state), the movement's first act was to declare that all media and access to media should be free. Leveraging the recent announcement that internet access was a human right, the entire populace began to file share all and any media they could -- en masse and in absolutely unprecedented quantities.
With networks choked and rebel engineers ensuring that the owners of the networks were impotent to shut them down, the only choice was to close down the international exchange points by force and declare it illegal to publish anything on the internet without a permit or a licence from the state.
As the subsequent WSIS, ITU, WIPO, and other significant U.N.-backed organisations met over the following months and years, gradually each state worldwide followed suit, transforming the internet into a single global U.N.-State controlled network.
In response to the outrage among the populace that these governments had historically purported to represent, the argument went that the general public were too stupid, dangerous, and volatile to be given access to free speech and free markets, and so only the state-sponsored, licensed broadcasters were allowed to publish content. Citizens had free speech -- providing the editor at the broadcaster agreed with their views.
Finally these broadcasters had found a way to make their traditional publishing models work on the internet. Their lobbying paid off. They had managed to engineer a situation where the internet was entirely at their disposal. As so long as their partners -- the state leaders and governments -- were constantly depicted as benevolent and righteous, then all the clamour of the populace was deemed to be simply whinging noise.
It was a shame really. The complete control and lock down of the internet was the defining moment when the one great democratising opportunity that society had had to involve everyone in the debate about their own destiny was taken away.
And because it was locked down, no one ever found out that the phone that had been glued to the underside of the tube-train seat had been bought by Rupert Murdoch, and the World Parliament page had been set up by his son James. The funny thing was that they genuinely thought that it was going to just be a bit of a poke of fun at the old guard British government that had been so hard on them in the year building up to the Olympics. They had no idea that they were about to save the content industry worldwide. But lucky for them they still had a lot of shares in their old company.
This article originally ran on the autumn 2012 issue of Streaming Media, European Edition, under the title "It Can't Happen Here."