Brazil plans to divorce itself from the U.S.-centric Internet over Washington's widespread online spying, a move that many experts fear will be a potentially dangerous first step toward fracturing a global network built with minimal interference by governments.
President Dilma Rousseff ordered a series of measures aimed at greater Brazilian online independence and security following revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted her communications, hacked into the state-owned Petrobras oil company's network and spied on Brazilians who entrusted their personal data to U.S. tech companies such as Facebook and Google.
The leader is so angered by the espionage that she's considering cancelling a trip to Washington next month where she's scheduled to be honored with a state dinner.
Internet security and policy experts say the Brazilian government's reaction to information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is understandable, but warn it could set the Internet on a course of Balkanization.
"The global backlash is only beginning and will get far more severe in coming months," said Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Institute at the Washington-based New America Foundation think tank. "This notion of national privacy sovereignty is going to be an increasingly salient issue around the globe."
While Brazil isn't proposing to bar its citizens from U.S.-based Web services, it wants their data to be stored locally as the nation assumes greater control over Brazilians' Internet use to protect them from NSA snooping.
The danger of mandating that kind of geographic isolation, Meinrath said, is that it could render inoperable popular software applications and services and endanger the Internet's open, interconnected structure.
The effort by Latin America's biggest economy to digitally isolate itself from U.S. spying not only could be costly and difficult, it could encourage repressive governments to seek greater technical control over the Internet to crush free expression at home, experts say.
In December, countries advocating greater "cyber-sovereignty" pushed for such control at an International Telecommunications Union meeting in Dubai, with Western democracies led by the United States and the European Union in opposition.
U.S. digital security expert Bruce Schneier says that while Brazil's response is a rational reaction to NSA spying, it is likely to embolden "some of the worst countries out there to seek more control over their citizens' Internet. That's Russia, China, Iran and Syria." (continued...)
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