One of the most surprising pieces of news to come out of last weekends G20 Summit in Germany were reports that Donald Trump has proposed the formation of a self proclaimed joint cyber security unit with Russia, in hopes of strengthening the relationship between our two countries while also securing America’s cyber infrastructure in the future. Donald Trump has also reportedly accepted Vladimir Putin’s denial of deliberately orchestrating cyber attacks against the United States Government in the months leading up to the 2016 Presidential election.
Given the reporting on his Presidency to date and the obvious bad optics of this particular announcement, it does not appear as though Trump made friends with the Kremlin just to make liberals heads explode. Rather, if we are to take his administration at their word, Trump proposed a joint partnership with Russia in an attempt to keep his friends close, but his enemies closer – so to speak.
In statements made to CNN over the weekend, US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said that “We need to get together with Moscow,” adding that “We need them, you know, what we think should happen, shouldn’t happen, and if we talk to them about it, hopefully we can get them to stop.” With that said however, Haley added that “It doesn’t mean we ever take our eyes off of the ball, it doesn’t mean we ever trust Russia. We can’t trust Russia, and we won’t ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don’t trust closer, so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check.”
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 9, 2017
If you have been following this issue closely, then by now I am sure you have already heard every opinion from either side of the political isle. So, rather than regurgitate old information, I want to add something more to the conversation that I have not seen any other news outlets cover to date, this would be why Russia’s cyber security is perceived to be so much “better” than the United States. Additionally, by pointing this out, I hope to demonstrate why following Russia’s lead when it comes to cyber security, privacy, and internet regulations is actually a scary thought for freedom loving Americans.
In a previous article written last December, I explained how interesting it was to see Russia beginning to change several of their laws regarding cyber security in 2015 and 2016, along the same time the country was harboring and granting political asylum to Edward Snowden of the NSA. At the time, I noted how it was far from coincidental that this was occurring and more likely than not, Snowden had been informing the Russian President where and how his country and cyber infrastructure was most vulnerable in exchange for his continued safety.
It just so happens that in Russia, which is far more “utilitarian” than the United States, Vladimir Putin has far more power to change laws and implement strategy than any of his counter parts in the United States could. This also explains why, in part, Russia has been able to create a much more secure country than the United States over the course of the last few years. That having been said, while this may make Russia more “secure” than the United States, it does not necessarily means it is “better” for the country or its people. Here’s why:
Russia Bans Popular Web Pages & Social Media Outlets
Believe it or not, the Russian Government blocks pages and services as large as LinkedIn, a company which recently sold for over 26 billion dollars in the United States and is one of the worlds top 5 social media outlets. Moreover, on multiple occasions in the past, Russia has also threatened to block and/or outlaw access to other social media pages and web services, including Google, Twitter and Facebook. The Russian Government also blocks pages that they deem to be detrimental to public health or public morality, such as porn hub and other pornography outlets.
Russia Bans Internet Privacy & Cyber Security Companies
Similar to the pages and services mentioned above, Russia also made news this past April after law makers brought forth new measures banning VPN and Proxy services. This was done because these types of services could allow citizens to bypass blocks and restrictions places upon internet by Russian authorities, such as the ones described above. Perhaps more importantly, these services also make it virtually impossible for the Russian Government, or anyone else for that matter, to track and record the activity of customers while they browse the internet. Essentially, by blocking most privacy and cyber security based companies and services from the country, the Russian Government makes it easier to conduct surveillance on the public.
Russia Fines Search Engines for Advertising Cyber Security
Not only has the Russian Government prevented privacy and cyber security companies from doing business within their borders, but the country actually fines search engines that allow access to similar companies outside their borders. By imposing strict financial penalties on search engines that link to or can potentially allow access to foreign security companies, it only further ensures that members of the Russian public will never be able to find or use their services.
Russia Blocks Off Their Internet from Outside Countries
When I first founded this website and began to advertise all over the world, I found one thing incredibly interesting; no matter how much money I spent, I couldn’t seem to reach an audience in Russia. To put some perspective on this, I can advertise more freely in countries such as Libya, Kenya and Pakistan than I can in Russia. This is also by design, the Russian Government intentionally bans outside vendors, publishers and publications from their country. Russian authorities defend this practice by saying that it protects the public from consuming foreign political propaganda, as in the same type of propaganda Russia stands accused of disseminating in more open internet markets, such as the United States and Germany.
Additionally, similar to the economic sanctions imposed upon them by foreign countries such as the US, Russia blocks off their internet from the outside world in order to make it harder for foreign companies to do business in their country. By restricting their internet in this way, it gives Russian businesses first opportunity in the Russian market. It also makes it much harder for foreign hackers to gain access into critical Russian cyber infrastructure, safe guarding the country to a small degree.
Russia Bans Political Activism Online & On The Streets
As I think it is well documented by now, Russia does not have a free or open press and has been known to arrest people for simply protesting on the streets. However, this “authoritarian” approach to political dissidence does not just apply to physical actions, it extends into cyber space all the same.
Just earlier this year Russia made international headlines when it decided to ban several humanitarian rights organizations from the country, fearing that their reporting on the Syrian Civil War might paint the Government of Russia and their actions in a negative light ahead of the 2018 elections. Not only does Russia have an extensive history of imprisoning journalists around the country, but several other journalists have allegedly been assassinated by Russian leadership. For example, the British operative whom infamously leaked the Trump dossier earlier this year.
Should US Citizens Have Anything To Fear?
The reports from last weekend not withstanding, when Donald Trump was on the campaign trail earlier last year, he did make a number of concerning remarks threatening to restrict internet access in one form or another. He spoke of censoring the internet and imposing unprecedented new sanctions upon it, and he even threw around the idea of implementing some sort of internet “curfew.” More specifically, Trump was quoted as saying that “We’ve got to maybe do something with the internet. We’re losing a lot of people because of the internet. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some ways. Somebody will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people.”
Not only this, but on multiple occasions in the past Donald Trump has also threatened to crack down on the free press by opening up libel laws and applying copyright law more literally to the internet. This might not sound all that extreme on the surface, but if copyright laws were opened up and applied to the internet, this would literally make memes illegal and punishable by fine in the future. For example, how many times have you seen the crying Michael Jordan face used in a meme? If we were to start applying copyright law more literally within cyber space, every time someone made a crying Jordan meme it would be illegal or a fine-able offense, payable to the photographer whom first took that photo of Michael Jordan back in the 90’s.
While Donald Trump has backed off from some of these “idea’s” since taking office, it does not take away from the fact that he was once floating them around to begin with. Moreover, in his first few months in office Donald Trump has already gone on to repeal net neutrality laws and has signed a new bill into law, allowing internet service providers to legally sell off the data and browsing history of their customers to third parties, including the United States Government. Now, of course, Donald Trump is personally asking Russia for advice on how to better secure the internet in the future.
This is particularly worrisome considering that every regulation, sanction and ban that Russia utilizes, such as all the measures outlined within this article, does not currently exist in the United States. While it may be true that Russia’s policies regarding the internet and cyber security have made the country much more secure and protected than the United States, their “security” comes at a tremendous expense to individual “freedom.” It sort of reminds me of an old saying that some American’s might have heard before, which reads that “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.“