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Tuesday, 02 September 2008 20:15

The Internet interprets the USA as damage and routes around it

For 30 years, no matter where your Internet data was headed the chances are that it made a bypass through the fat pipes and quick switches of the USA in order to get there. Now fears over the World Police spying on that traffic have prompted many countries to start routing around, rather than through, the United States...

John Gilmore was a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Cypherpunks group and the GNU Flash Player called Gnash.

However, way back in 1993 he said something that was quoted in TIME magazine that struck a chord:

"The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it"

It was a powerful line then, and remains so now. People still manage to find ways to bypass Internet filtering systems wherever they may be applied. The Internet was built to work that way.
However, what if you replace censorship in that quote with another word? What if the word you insert is snooping? Would the Internet still route around it?

It is an interesting question, because ever since the Internet was born much of the traffic that flows around it has also flowed through the US. Even if you were sending an email to someone in the same room, let alone the same city or same country, it would get routed through the United States first.

The process has even got a name: it is called tromboning, for pretty obvious reasons.

It happens for reasons that are, perhaps, less obvious. These usually revolve around money, it has to be said. Complicated tariffs and pricing anomalies are at the forefront of much tromboning.

Then there is the small matter of inter-ISP rivalry, where one ISP would rather exchange data with an International operator than a local competitor.

However, the political landscape is changing and that is impacting upon the Internet routing map as well. Find out why the US is being cut out of the data traffic loop on page 2...


There are few developed countries around the planet which are not, in some way or another, dependant upon the Internet these days. There are even fewer who do not appreciate that a dependence on other countries to deliver their Internet traffic is Not A Good Thing.

Some consider it to be common knowledge that "US intelligence agencies frequently tap into internet traffic coming through the US from elsewhere."

Although this might sound like paranoia talking, the argument does have legs. In 2006 the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Michael V. Hayden, went on record before a Senate Judiciary Committee to warn about the dangers of countries bypassing the US when it comes to Internet data routing.

“Because of the nature of global telecommunications, we are playing with a tremendous home-field advantage, and we need to exploit that edge. We also need to protect that edge, and we need to protect those who provide it to us" Hayden said.

The New York Times reports that government officials have acknowledged the importance of traffic "passing through the switching equipment of companies based in the United States" has proved "a distinct advantage for American intelligence agencies."

Now it seems that the spying has come back to bite the US firmly on the ass. That and the economic importance of developing ones own Internet infrastructure which has not been lost on nations around the world.

One research scientist sums it up nicely when saying “You wouldn’t want someone owning your roads either.”

And so we have a situation where the amount of the world's Internet traffic carried through the US has dropped to around 25 percent today, compared to around 70 percent ten years ago.

India and China are both investing heavily in next-generation Internet technology, and nations like Japan are keen to exploit this in order to cut the US out of the routing loop altogether.

What America will need to come to terms with over the next ten years is that the rest of the world has not only caught up with them in terms of Internet technology, but is running at such a pace that sheer momentum will drive it right past them real soon now...

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