China, Russia seeking their own Internet, warns former Intel chairman

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The cyber pact that China and Russia signed on Friday threatens online freedom and represents a “real, concrete step” toward an alternative Internet, according to former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).

“I think this is a huge, bad step for the Internet and economic prosperity on the Internet moving forward,” Rogers said during remarks Monday at the Hudson Institute, where he is a distinguished fellow.

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Russia and China pledged on Friday not to hack each other.

“They’re going to focus those resources on the United States, and I think any innovative economy in the world, which is bad for the rest of the innovative economies in the world,” Rogers said.

The two countries will also jointly develop technology that protects their “socio-economic atmosphere,” including campaigns to thwart technologies that might “disturb public order” or “interfere with affairs of the state,” he said

“Meaning,” Rogers said, “it will be the mother of all dissent trackers. You won’t be able to have a moment of peace if you're a dissenter in China or Russia. And they're going to work together on that, which I found fascinating.”

Russia and China are widely regarded as the United States’ two main cyber adversaries. Both boast first-tier hacking capabilities and work to keep a tight grip on what appears online.

Currently, the nonprofit responsible for global Internet maintenance — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — gives governing bodies input, but not final say.

In Friday’s deal, Rogers saw the biggest step yet in the effort to manufacture another approach.

“They’re creating this alternative out there, that they say is just an alternative, to what we would know as the Internet,” he said. “They’re going to go take it to developing countries.”

Economies are rapidly developing in Africa and Southeast Asia, and Rogers worries China and Russia will export their version of the Internet to these locations. The result could be restricted global access to products and ideas in the region.

“It is something [Russia and China] will be able to control,” he said. Traffic to these countries “doesn’t have to go through the World Wide Web anymore. It goes through this system, which has been set up mainly by China.”

As the U.S. and Europe have started to press for United Nations norms guaranteeing Internet freedom, Russia and China have led a movement in the opposite direction.

"That should give a little bead of sweat for everybody that gets on the Web," Rogers said.

Both countries are also tightening domestic control over digital data and have essentially axed formal cybersecurity relations with the United States.

“They’re very patient; they’re planning this out,” Rogers said. “If you look at their actions, they’re very concrete. It’s very directional. It has a serious outcome, and you can see exactly what they're doing with this first step with this pact on Friday.”

And the U.S. is asleep at the wheel from a policy perspective, he added.

“I worry about it,” Rogers said. “I worry that we’re not paying attention to it.”