China, Huawei, and Chinese operators want to remake a vital aspect of the Internet – the standard Internet protocol. This venture may have some advantages, but the idea has caused a great deal of concern.
Huawei proposed a new Internet protocol to the International Telecommunication Union. IT is called New IP and theoretically offers more efficient addressing and network management than the existing TCP/IP standard.
However, it also seems to have aspects that allow authoritarian regimes to censor and control their inhabitants. In particular, a "shutdown command" is provided, which will allow the central part of the network to disconnect data arriving at or from an address. It can be especially convenient if China wants to silence activists without resorting to additional tools.
There are also concerns that New IP will require authentication and authorization not only of new Internet addresses but also of the people involved in the process. China has already been trying to make Internet users register with their real names for quite a long time, so the new protocol may well reduce any users’ anonymity.
It is expected that New IP will be ready for testing by early 2021.
A Huawei spokesman described New IP as solely designed to handle the technical requirements of changing digital space, and not to provide control. Huawei described this update as vital to powering "holo-sense teleportation" and self-driving cars. And also added that the technology was "open to scientists and engineers worldwide."
But these statements appear to contradict the nature of the architecture and those who support the proposed innovations. Openness does not change the fact that New IP will give governments more control over their parts of the Internet. And when the Chinese government takes a hand in this standard and receives support from authoritarian countries like Russia, this will inevitably cause concern.
So far, there is no certainty that the International Telecommunication Union will approve the use of New IP as a standard, not to mention the fact that enough countries will adopt this technology to make it viable. However, its existence will cause concern among civil liberties advocates, who think that it will deprive users of the basic level of anonymity.