End of the American Internet?

Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass the U.S. – NYTimes.com

Article by John Markoff in The New York Times 29 August noting that due substantially to concerns about surveillance by the US government, internet traffic is increasingly being routed around rather than through the US.

“Since passage of the Patriot Act, many companies based outside of the United States have been reluctant to store client information in the U.S.,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. “There is an ongoing concern that U.S. intelligence agencies will gather this information without legal process. There is particular sensitivity about access to financial information as well as communications and Internet traffic that goes through U.S. switches.”

Markoff also notes economic reasons which emphasise the role of national governments in the future development of the internet and in maintaining (or not) their citizens’ access to the internet:

Almost all nations see data networks as essential to economic development. “It’s no different than any other infrastructure that a country needs,” said K C Claffy, a research scientist at the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis in San Diego. “You wouldn’t want someone owning your roads either.”

Indeed, more countries are becoming aware of how their dependence on other countries for their Internet traffic makes them vulnerable. Because of tariffs, pricing anomalies and even corporate cultures, Internet providers will often not exchange data with their local competitors. They prefer instead to send and receive traffic with larger international Internet service providers.

This leads to odd routing arrangements, referred to as tromboning, in which traffic between two cites in one country will flow through other nations. In January, when a cable was cut in the Mediterranean, Egyptian Internet traffic was nearly paralyzed because it was not being shared by local I.S.P.’s but instead was routed through European operators.

The issue was driven home this month when hackers attacked and immobilized several Georgian government Web sites during the country’s fighting with Russia. Most of Georgia’s access to the global network flowed through Russia and Turkey. A third route through an undersea cable linking Georgia to Bulgaria is scheduled for completion in September.

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