Regulatory, cybersecurity and protectionist concerns lead to the fragmentation of the internet
A proliferation of damaging cross-border cyberattacks might be the most likely trigger for a government-led breakup of the internet into national or regional “walled gardens”, but there are many other potential drivers that could lead governments in this direction: economic protectionism, regulatory divergence, censorship and repression, the fraying of national political discourse and the loss of government power relative to global online companies.
Fragmentation of the internet could involve, among other things, interruption of technical internet functions or barriers to the flow of content and transactions. Some might welcome a move towards a less hyper-globalized online world, but many would not: resistance would be likely, as would the rapid growth of illegal workarounds. The pace of technological development would slow and its trajectory would change. Human rights abuses would likely increase as advances in international monitoring were rolled back.
Advances in cybersecurity governance and technology ought to mitigate the risk of worsening cyber disruption and theft that would trigger the imposition of firewalls. Ongoing dialogue between governments and technology companies would help to ensure that internet-based technologies develop in a politically sustainable context of shared values and agreed responsibilities.