The battle over net neutrality is rightfully capturing headlines in Washington and worldwide. Far less attention is being paid, however, to a looming threat that could have an even greater impact on the future: The Internet has outstripped the ability of governments to keep up. On issues as diverse as hate speech, espionage and copyright infringement, governments fear a loss of sovereignty in a fast-moving digital world. On taxation and privacy rights, Government 1.0 can’t stay abreast of Technology 4.0.
In response, many governments are erecting national and regional barriers that could cripple the openness at the heart of the Internet. Some of these barriers come from well-intentioned governments trying to protect their citizens and economies, such as those disinclined to trade information about criminal cases and copyright protection. Others, such as unilateral blocking of social media sites in China, Iran and Turkey, are used by authoritarian leaders to stifle dissent and protect their own power.