The U.S. Ban on TikTok and WeChat Threatens the Foundations of the Internet

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The Greater Washington DC Chapter of the Internet Society is against breaking the Internet. The ban of TikTok and WeChat announced by the Department of Commerce today in response to President Trump’s Executive order on August 6 undermines the foundations of the Internet. 

The globally interconnected Internet is the product of bottom-up, decentralized management and governance, which has enabled it to become a vital social, cultural and commercial system that it is today. The top-down nature of this total prohibition is an attempt to impose centralized means of control over parts of the Internet. It is a direct threat to the openness and accessibility of the Internet and is antithetical to how it actually works on a technical level. 

This move is a stark departure from the US government’s longstanding commitment to an open and global Internet. Not only does it threaten our rights to access information and communicate with others, but it also accelerates the dangerous trend of Internet fragmentation. The decisions made in this ban may empower and provide a framework for other countries to take similar measures to restrict the interoperability of the Internet, and as a result, limit access to information and communication for internet users around the world. 

There will inevitably be unintended consequences associated with the implementation of this decision that harm the Internet. For starters, it will create compliance and operational issues for network operators. This places additional burdens on those that are working tirelessly to connect people across the US at a time when it is needed the most. In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and lives at stake, we cannot afford the costs of these added burdens.

Additionally, the prohibition on application updates presents a unique security threat specific to users in the US who will not receive security updates for these applications, exposing them to vulnerabilities that were discovered and fixed elsewhere in the world. This places American consumers at an unnecessary disadvantage that could have consequences for privacy, cybersecurity, and financial security.

We strongly oppose these actions taken by the US government. If implemented, the unintended negative impacts on user privacy, security, interoperability, and openness are what “breaks” the Internet. We also stress the need for policymakers to understand the technical implications of their decisions for the Internet and recommend ISOC’s Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit for analyzing the impact of policy proposals on the Internet’s infrastructure.  We will continue to encourage these considerations as the internet continues to grow in scope, scale and importance as a vital system for American democracy and thriving markets.

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