Tuesday, June 11, 2013


NSA spying may revive opposition to US control over the Internet

In March, Wired magazine reported that the NSA is building a $2 billion data center in Utah. Its purpose is to intercept, decipher, analyze and store the world's communications from satellites and underground and undersea cables of international, foreign and domestic networks.CSO

by Larry Geller

The NSA can build its huge bunker in Utah to intercept the world’s communications traffic only because the US is the center, or “hub” for much of that traffic and so has access to it.

The government didn’t always have access to email correspondence. The earliest commercially available email systems (e.g., GE’s Quick-comm service) ran on private networks and charged significant fees of their users. When free Internet services became available, those services predictably died. Traffic on the private networks was encrypted and secure. Emails on the Internet can apparently be read easily by your neighborhood government spy (or teenage hacker…).

The NSA is able to collect vast amounts of data on Internet use because it has the ability to tap into the world’s Internet traffic directly (the fiber-optic cables) and via domestic connections into the systems controlled by Google, Facebook, Apple and others.

Suppose the Internet became regional, with local control.

If the government is gathering huge amounts of information from Internet companies then it could play into the arguments of China, Russia and Saudi Arabia that U.S. control over the Internet should go to the United Nations.

[CSO, NSA snooping bolsters opponents of U.S. Internet control, 6/7/2013]

There has already been a struggle to wrest control of the Internet from the US, but mainly in terms of assigning the top-level domains. An international conference held in December in Dubai failed to establish international control over the Internet. ICANN is the organization that controls those domains, and it operates under a government contract.

Countries have interfered with the Internet by cutting it off entirely (most recently Syria) or imposing strict censorship on traffic (e.g., China). But suppose there were European or Mid-East data centers that the US could not tap into?

No doubt wrongdoers completely understand that they mustn’t plot their activities using Gmail. They know that if their cell phones are powered on, someone in the US knows where they are. So they avoid using the systems that the NSA is tracking. Those whose data does get recorded and analyzed are overwhelmingly ordinary citizens—of this and other countries. The NSA computers are filled with ordinary people’s data, including details of their love-lives, their financial transactions, and which movies they’ve ordered tickets to see.

The recent leaks by Edward Snowden may revive pressure to move to more local control of data flows to prevent US spying. Do other countries care whether we record their citizen’s private data? Perhaps not so much. But Putin may care that his own phone calls are on file someplace in Utah.

A Google search (bless their evil hearts) reveals that there is some talk of this. Of course, the USA is aware of it (heck, all they have to do is check the NSA computers for details) and will not easily relinquish any aspect of network control.

A pre-Dubai article in Vanity Fair delved into the struggle for international control of the Internet. A snip:

The U.S. and most of its allies basically want to keep Internet governance the way it is: run by a small group of technical nonprofit and volunteer organizations, most of them based in the United States.

On the other side will be representatives from countries where governments want to place restrictions on how people use the Internet. These include Russia, China, Brazil, India, Iran, and a host of others. All of them have implemented or experimented with more intrusive monitoring of online activities than the U.S. is publicly known to practice. A number of countries have openly called for the creation of a “new global body” to oversee online policy. At the very least, they’d like to give the United Nations a great deal more control over the Internet.

[Vanity Fair, World War 3.0, 5/2012]

Now that we know—and other countries know—that the US has been using its position and technical/economic might to spy on overseas communications, Vanity Fair’s “World War 3.0” could conceivably be revived.

Russia, one of the countries unsatisfied with US control over the Internet, seems keenly interested in the NSA spying revelations. Breaking news is that Putin would consider granting leaker Edward Snowden asylum if he requested it. See: NSA leaks: Russia 'would consider' Edward Snowden asylum claim – live (The Guardian (UK), 6/11/2013).


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