The U.S.-Russia conflict is heating up — in cyberspace

Russia’s view of the internet is fundamentally different from that of the United States, the senior State Department official said during an interview on Tuesday. Whereas the United States seeks an open, free and interoperable system, Russia wants “an internet with sovereign borders,” where it can suppress speech it doesn’t like.

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Russia’s obsession with cyberspace partly reflects Moscow’s view that the United States controls the internet and its governance. A favorite Russian target is a group of experts known as ICANN, which oversees the internet’s system of domain names. ICANN used to operate under a Commerce Department contract but has been fully independent since 2016. On Monday, the group published a compendium of Russia’s attempts to rewrite internet rules, through the United Nations or other international regulatory bodies it seeks to control. From President Vladimir Putin on down, the Russians quoted in the ICANN report resent the United States’ digital dominance.

The U.S.-Russian contest over cyberspace will play out in this September’s election for a new secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. agency that could, in theory, take over internet governance. Two leading candidates are Doreen Bogdan-Martin, an American who currently runs one of the ITU’s bureaus, and Rashid Ismailov, a Russian who has worked in his country’s communications ministry and for Huawei, Nokia and other companies. Watch that space, folks.

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