Yet another reason McCain's "Internet Freedom Act" is dumb, Net Neutrality is good: national security?

xmad.jpg Boing Boing reader Ken Ward caught Friday's Rachel Maddow Show segment, in which I joined Ms. Maddow for a discussion around John McCain's "Internet Freedom Act."

McCain, who once described himself as technologically "illiterate" and is the single largest senate recipient of telecom lobby money, is now campaigning against the net neutrality fundamentals recently reaffirmed by FCC actions.

Our reader suggests another reason McCain is dead-wrong: "At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, I have to point out that McCain's positions is, in fact, a danger to National Security." Ken's email to Boing Boing, after the jump. Your thoughts welcomed in the comments.


Ken writes:

Interesting exchange between you and Rachel Maddow regarding McCain's position on Net Neutrality. At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, I have to point out that McCain's positions is, in fact, a danger to National Security. Let's remember that the Internet grew out of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which itself grew out of ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (an Eisenhower baby), both of which were government-funded efforts to ensure that government and military computer networks could survive and maintain in contact in the event of a nuclear or environmental disaster.

The National Security function of what is today known as the Internet has already been largely degraded by the privatization of the Internet backbone, and McCain's bill only further puts at risk National Security by allowing private enterprise to determine the "importance" of Internet packets. As I see it, the best and only way to understand McCain's bill is as a betrayal of National Security interests.

Best regards,


NB: you probably already have read "Where the Wizards Stay Up Late" by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon, but if not, it is well worth a read.


Ken Ward MLIS
PhD Candidate
Department of History
UT @ Austin

Boing Boing readers: your thoughts on this argument? Tell us in the comments.


  1. “National Security” is an insufficient basis for public policy.

    Only arguments based on “National Security (as understood by voters)” will carry the day.

    — MrJM

  2. Something to consider: during the election McCain admitted to not knowing how to use a computer. This became a particular issue when Obama made internet policy an element in his campaign.

    Now we have this, an internet regulation bill from a man who doesn’t know how to use said internet and takes his advice from the telco lobbyists who “inform” him of its use.

    This disgusts me.

  3. The Internet as anybody who reads this blog knows it doesn’t have many national security implications.

    Milnet has been split off into a different network decades ago, and only has a handfull of heavily firewalled links to the “Internet”.

  4. MrJim: National-Security-as-understood-by-voters:

    “But what if a RUSSIAN or CHINESE company bought out the backbone? ZOMG NOES!”

  5. Xeni, Ken –

    This argument is pretty specious. The “Internet” as used by the DoD is a private one that is carried over a combination of DoD-owned and (more and more frequently) leased circuits. The key word there is circuits: the providers who supply the circuits have no visibility into the packet-level traffic traversing the links they provide; they provide a fixed amount of capacity along known paths. There are certainly cases where the DoD tunnels over an IP-type service, but it’s much the same as establishing a private VLAN service between two endpoints in the same company: You negotiate a contract with the provider that specifies how much bandwidth you can get, etc., and you pay for it. The game is very different when the customer is on both ends of the connection than it is when you’re talking about, e.g., a residential customer connecting to Google, where the financial responsibility for carrying the packets is much more murky.

    To understand more how the DoD structures their network, google for the “GIG” (global information grid) or the “Black Core”. You will, unfortunately, get a heck of a lot of military-speak, but the overall structure is in there.

  6. In an era where the US outsources invasions and foreign occupying forces to private corporations, I hardly think they’re concerned with the security issues of privatizing the internet.

    Interestingly, the reasons for these two privatization may be similar. By using military contractors abroad, the government can distance itself from unethical and illegal operations done on its behalf while still maintaining control over what matters.

    With a privatized internet, illegal wiretapping and monitoring done for national security reasons can be blamed on telecom companies, rather than the government behind them. And once net neutrality is gone, private telecom companies will be able to censor the internet in a way that would be utterly indefensible were the government to do it directly.

    I think the government is fully aware of the national security implications of a privatized internet, they just have a different idea about what “national security” means.

  7. This story about DARPA/ARPA and the Internet being a way to ensure survival after nuclar attack is – sorry to say that – simply wrong. ARPA was founded after the Sputnick-shock to ensure americas technological superiority over the soviets. It was meant to finance projects which were beneficial, but where the private sector did not invest – a way to solve market-failures. The development of the internet was financed because it was a great way to share computer-time at the mainframe computers of the time. The claim about the nuclear winter was added as an afterthought, it was never it’s purpose.

    1. but if the cold war and ARPA/DARPA was about superiority over the Soviets then wouldn’t a communications plan in the event of a nuclear disaster been one of those contingencies? You are making a straw man argument.

  8. The national security angle is something I hadn’t thought of, but is a good argument.

    However, I’ve always been baffled by the republican’s support of non-neutrality. With all of their fears about the “liberal media,” what happens when the media companies that control ISPs decide that internet traffic to Fox News or RedState are suddenly lowest-priority? I’m guessing their tune would change.

    1. Nah – the republican wet dream is making it so someone can own the internet. They know that their members are the richest people in the country and eventually will be able to acquire it (like they did with radio), at which point everything it is used for will be only with their consent. They always say free market this free market that but they really like controlled access to resources since it allows people to be rich without working for it. They’ll choke off any video service critical of their views or that competes with their own certified content providers. Companies that wish to provide streaming video will be forced to ‘buy’ a bandwith contract from the ISP (a process that will be up for review allowing undesirables to be denied access outright). It will all be in the name of allowing a company to do business the way it wants to and if you don’t like it you can just build your own internet (never mind that as it exists it was paid for by the users from all those monthly access fees we all have been paying for over a decade now). They want to turn the internet into radio – buy all points of access then choke all newcomers out leaving all the spoils to them.

  9. Eliminating “dumb pipes” or net neutrality is excellent if you are a DMCA-loving lawyer because that’s one more group (telcos) you can involve in your lawsuit when you find that someone shared a copy of something they shouldn’t have. If all packets are being monitored then, if sharing occurs, then one could argue that the company doing the monitoring was complicit.

    The companies that manage the various pipes are thinking that they will get to restrict or eliminate bandwidth used for peer-sharing rather than investing in more bandwidth. Some extra devious lawyer will catch them out on this and then they will be backpedaling pretty fast. The only people to benefit from elimination of unmonitored/dumb pipes will be the lawyers.

  10. While ARPA/DARPA was not created to help survive a nuclear attack, the decentralized design of the ARPAnet (later to become our beloved Internet) was. With no single point of failure and no centralized control points (in stark contrast to the telephone network of the time), the ARPAnet would be resilient to attacks. It is exactly the lack of centralized control that made the Internet able to grow as it did. It is the most successful exercise in collaborative anarchy in history, created by one of the largest top-down hierarchies in history. Isn’t irony beautiful?

  11. ARPA/DARPA didn’t create the Internet, they merely funded this particular research project. Actually, much of the research that eventually led to the Arpanet was developed independently. For example, the first packet-switching network was created in Britain (so much for the popular claim the Internet is solely a US-invention). There was no military use intended and whether the ARPAnet would have survived such a war is doubtful. To quote the Internet Society (via Wikipidia):
    It was from the RAND study that the false rumor started claiming that the ARPANET was somehow related to building a network resistant to nuclear war. This was never true of the ARPANET, only the unrelated RAND study on secure voice considered nuclear war. However, the later work on Internetting did emphasize robustness and survivability, including the capability to withstand losses of large portions of the underlying networks.[

  12. Ken,

    Ok, first off I’m not sure where ‘right’ is w/r/t Net Neutrality — I can make a case for either side.

    Second, McCain is not the smartest LED bulb on the Christmas tree, and he’ll do whatever the richest person talking to him says.

    Third, DARPA sure as heck does not use the Internet anymore except to spy on us.

    So, its not a threat to NATSEC.

    Bottom line; if we had more bandwidth, it wouldnt matter and the US lags in bandwidth to the consumer. So, basically they want everyone to pitch in and pay more so they can afford to be slow about improving it, and make a healthy profit on the old bandwidth for quite awhile before they do.

    All in all, for once I’m amazed the gov got it sort of right. Sort of.



  13. The only way to have true national security is to have high bandwidth multiple connections to each home and business, in a mesh-shaped network topology, so that any packet will make its way through the network without any isps anywhere to slow down, count, restrict, examine, control any of the data. the backbone should be owned by us, the public, for anybody to attach to.

    this model where there are huge monopoly isps has brought us full circle all the way back to 1968, before the carterfone ruling from the supreme court, and it is very dangerous.

  14. McCain is a total sellout on this issue, a bought and paid for, senate whore, by the TELCO’s. He can barely comprehend Twitter and has no understanding of the internet beyond what the TELCO lobbyists spoon feed him. I recall that we had an effective referendum last November on McCain’s ideas and policies and he LOST. This is just another attempt to pay off a debt to his benefactors.

  15. Wasn’t one of Obama’s concerns about internet security due to our national electric supply grids being heavily dependent on/interwoven with the internet? Wasn’t there a case of sabotage in CA last summer that caused a blackout? And more recently, this summer, attempts at hacking those systems that came from North Korea?

    to say that our national security in its totality, from our financial systems to utilities, is not dependent on the internet in any way we need to worry wbout, is somewhat shortsighted. THE INTERNET IS INFRASTRUCTURE at this point. We rely on it for everything.

  16. Also, very much have to agree with previous anonymous post on how Repubs would love to own the net the way they have taken over radio and all you hear is their point of view as if it’s mainstream. Rupert Murdoch himself has recently “waged war on the internet” and its confounded free content. I don’t think his timing is accidental. One bright spot is, like McCain, Murdoch too has no idea about the culture or mindset of even the average internet user, as evidenced by the way he’s bought and tanked Myspace.

  17. It is exactly the lack of centralized control that made the Internet able to grow as it did. It is the most successful exercise in collaborative anarchy in history, created by one of the largest top-down hierarchies in history. Isn’t irony beautiful?

    …So beautiful

  18. To me I think Senator McCain is a big cry baby. He says one thing and turns around and does the oppisit of what he is talking about. Like our boys over there in Affaganstand, one time he says bring them home then he does a complete turn around and says they need to be there. Sometimes I wonder if he is lossing it.

  19. Interestingly, the “open net” hasn’t caused national security concerns to the Senator until now! Probably closing the door to gouging the public has caused quite a few anxiety attacks for those who never have enough….

  20. The Republican argument goes like this: If the FCC regulates the Internet then it could abuse its power in regulating what’s being said and done on the Internet. If EITHER ruling party attacks radio and TV news to eliminate criticism then what’s to prevent it from eliminating criticism from blogs as well?

    Is this nothing but a slippery slope argument? Is it a straw man argument confusing regulation of bandwidth with regulation of free speech? I’m not really sure which side is right on this.

    I’m less concerned about Republicans trying to make bandwidth more expensive and far more concerned about the Obama administration in secret negotiation of international Internet treaties that it says cannot be made public due to “national security”. My feelings on this treaty isn’t about partisan politics, I’m on Cory’s side on this one.

  21. How did go from a moron who could not send an email, to a guy introducing legislation about the internet.
    And that name! Not too deceiving!!!

Comments are closed.