Ukraine, Russia and internet policy

When creating internet policy, we must consider the experience of users around the world.

Picture of Vladimir Putin

You’d think differently about internet policy if you lived under Vladimir Putin.

Many bureaucrats, lawyers, and journalists view policy through the lens of the West. I’m certainly guilty of putting on a West-centric lens when I think about internet policy.

This lens is one of a generally free society with a free press and a hands-off government. Some might disagree with the prior statement, but this statement is inarguable compared to places like Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, etc.

Consider Whois privacy. Many lawyers and governments argue that they should be able to find out who owns a domain name. Yet one of the reasons people argue that Whois privacy is necessary is because some people are speaking out against their government through websites and they need to protect their identity from that government.

This can be hard to grasp for someone who lives in the West. If I want to write something bad about the U.S. government on a website, I can do it freely and openly using my identity. There are no government censors who will come knocking on my door. I’m not going to be interrogated or thrown into prison.

Unfortunately, these exact scenarios play out in other parts of the world. In China, you need a license to run a website. In Russia, you might be thrown in jail (or worse) if you make negative statements about the government.

The situation in Russia and Ukraine is another reminder to think about policy beyond the lens of the West. The internet covers the entire world (for now). If we are making policies that impact users worldwide, we need to think about how their experiences are different.

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