NSA spying will not change Internet governance

NSA spying will not change Internet governance

Summary: The NSA's surveillance of civilians and leaders abroad, now known to include Spain, is guaranteed to generate outrage in those countries. But it won't make any meaningful changes in Internet governance.

TOPICS: Security, Government

More NSA surveillance news is out: First, Japanese authorities refused to assist the NSA in Internet surveillance. Second, as put by Glenn Greenwald, the co-author of an article in Spain's El Mundo, "NSA collected data on 60 million calls in Spain in one month".


I'd like to say I'm as mad as everyone about the massive surveillance programs disclosed by Edward Snowden, but I'm not. I am very upset about some specific practices, but not others. So much of the outrage is over government actions which any reasonable person would presume were happening anyway.

In that sense, at least from the point of view of an American, the slowly-released stories of NSA surveillance abroad are getting quite boring. Point made: The NSA spies on friend and foe alike, and foreigners not in the US have no privacy rights under US law.

There have been calls, such as those of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, for changes in Internet governance. As The Guardian put it:

Rousseff called on the UN oversee a new global legal system to govern the internet. She said such multilateral mechanisms should guarantee the "freedom of expression, privacy of the individual and respect for human rights" and the "neutrality of the network, guided only by technical and ethical criteria, rendering it inadmissible to restrict it for political, commercial, religious or any other purposes.

John Levine, a true expert in the technology and governance of the Internet and no NSA apologist, rightly calls this "a crock."If the US has extraordinary access to the networks in other countries like Brazil, it's because of bad telecom policies in those countries. In Brazil specifically, laws which protect domestic monopolies make it cheaper for Brazilian networks to pair with each other through US networks. Seriously. Obviously this makes it easy for US authorities to spy on Brazilian networks. What do they expect?

Rousseff's raising of net neutrality arguments makes the speech even more bizarre. Such arguments have no merit even when they are in context. No doubt extremists of all types would like to restrict Internet speech for the reasons she lists, but it's not an actual problem, at least not in the US; perhaps Brazil has such restrictions.

ICANN also thinks it will be at the center of Snowden-inspired changes. I find this amusing. ICANN policy has, at least as often as not, weakened the security of the Internet through added complexity and naïve governance.

In fact, as Levine reminds us, the Internet is a collection of networks with voluntary agreements to connect to each other and route traffic. The only possible leverage countries like Brazil have with the US on this matter would be to disconnect their networks from us and connect through other countries. Doing this will certainly cost them enough money to trump their principles and they'll just get spied on by the countries with whom they connect instead of the US.

Long before the Snowden revelations, every time there was another story about the Chinese spying on our Internet, I would write that it just stands to reason we're doing the same thing; or at least I hoped we were. No rules promulgated by some UN or other bureaucracy have the slightest chance of stopping nation states from conducting espionage on each other. As individuals and organizations, all we can do is to use defensive security technologies, such as encryption, to protect ourselves. At the very least, you can make it much harder.

Topics: Security, Government

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  • It's expected, therefore it's right?

    It's expected, therefore it's right?

    Not sure that's the way I really want things to work.
    • Scale

      The problem is the scale of the spying. In the past, due to resources, the governments had to target who they were spying upon.

      Now the USA can "assume" every citizen in the world is a terrorist and spy on them, until proven guilty and taken out with a drone strike.

      If somebody is acting suspiciously, then by all means spy on them. But for the other billions who aren't acting suspiciously, they should be ignoring their communications. THAT is the problem.
      • But doesn't that increase the deficit?

        Seems like that would be a place that the government of any democracy, especially the wealthiest one, could save some money, which could help provide health care or economic stimulus for millions.
    • You couldn't be any wronger

      I'd love to see your views about the matter after you learned that the NSA had imbedded, without your knowledge, video cams with microphones in every room of your house and also were recording your fixed/mobile phone communications. It is OK as long as they are not doing it to you, right? Wake up Jack! I really feel like a total waste of my time having ready your BS article.
  • Nobody will give the key to a theif

    The NSA scandal will have far reaching consequences in the long term.
    • For once, I agree with you.

      That happens to be why I don't use either Apple or Microsoft software - both have given the keys to the NSA, as have every ISP in the country. Only Linux and the BSD kits at least allow you to know what is going on. The others are a "trust me", even after they have been shown to be untrustworthy.

      But that was done with the permission of Congress, which where the buck stops.
      • Well, then it's official...

        since the NSA has nothing to do with Linux, my Slackware box is "safe"...ummm,
        what? SELinux you say? Hooked into virtually every program installed? Hole in
        the C compiler since the 1980s?
  • Yes yes, everything we CAN do we SHOULD do

    That appears to be your philosophy. I'll remember that if I ever move into your neighborhood and find that I CAN break into your house to examine your financial records and such.
  • NSA is already costing US cloud business billions in lost revenue

    Brazil is not the only country outraged by the unacceptable spying on its citizens and leaders by the NSA, but so are Germany and France, quite powerful nations. Brazil is soon going to pass a law to insist that all data held by Yahoo, Google etc. on Brazilian individuals and companies be held on Brazilian soil which is going to add to these multinationals additional costs if they want to do business in what is the world's 6th largest economy. In addition, preference by government agencies and companies, when looking at suppliers, is going to go to non US companies to avoid the US government pressuring them into handing over data of nationals of other countries.

    If that is not changing the internet and internet-based business I don't know what is. US multinationals have woken up to the threat and are scared like hell. The likes of Workday and Salesforce are already seeing their business going down in Europe as Europeans will stop buying from American businesses online.

    So, not only is this snooping ILLEGAL and EVIL, it is becoming BAD FOR BUSINESS, too.
    • Technically illegal...

      It has been technically illegal in Europe to use American based cloud services (or those with just with an American presence), since the USA enacted the Patriot Act.
  • Who will impose reasonable limits in the NSA?

    We now have proof that some NSA practices are unconstitutional. Others are unethical, anti-democratic, self corrupting, and dangerous.

    Spying has always been part of national security since our nation was founded. But collecting everyone's communications everywhere has not. The scale of data collection by the NSA places this in a completely new category that invites abuse.

    Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. There is no consent for this level of spying. On the contrary, US citizens soundly rejected previous clipper chip proposals but the NSA went ahead anyway.

    Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. If we were serious about protecting Americans, we would stop antagonizing the rest of the world.

    Internet governance is abstract and dispersed. The Internet was designed and built around trust and mutual benefit. Increasingly, portions of the Internet will be encrypted or isolated from the US due to deep mistrust of the US government.
  • Larry - wake up and get serious

    It may be boring to you Larry, but the disclosures have only begun. It is only ramping up as quickly as the general public can safely assimilate. As quicker the media gets bored and stops reporting the vast corruption that is running rampant in our government (NSA just being one tool being misdirected) then far more powerful disclosures will occur.

    That is why Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein are attempting to shut down all alternative journalism in Congress with a bill to certify journalists and marginalize (possibly make illegal) all reporting that is not directly government sanctioned.

    In addition the head of the NSA has now publically suggested that he will find a way to shut down all media disclosure of whistleblower information. One wonders what extremes the rich and powerful will take along these lines – not barring High Crimes and Misdemeanors.


    Go ahead Larry. Lull everyone back to sleep and let the crime and corruption that is being hidden continue. Your service to humanity is clearly marginal at best. Better listen to Russell Brand and get a clue as to what is really going on in the world. Your attempts to go back to sleep may result in a rude awakening. Get in touch with the public and stop isolating yourself in your ivory tower. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLYcn3PuTTk
  • GovComm 44y

    The NSA does no domestic spying whatsoeve4!