NSA Spying Fallout: International Control of Internet Demanded

  • Bindiya Thomas
  • 12:32 PM, October 1, 2013
  • 3562
NSA Spying Fallout: International Control of Internet Demanded
Will the PRISM fallout lead to a new global system to govern the internet?

The global storm over whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s expose’ that the US spied on countries all over the world has snowballed into a demand that control of the Internet be vested with the United Nations.


Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff kicked off the demand with a powerful speech at the United Nations General Assembly last week where she called  on the UN to oversee a new global legal system to govern the internet to guarantee "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”. 


President Rouseff denounced the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance of her country and announced that Brazil will take steps to “equip itself with legislation, technologies and mechanisms in order to protect ourselves from unlawful interception of communications and data”.


The US has admitted that it spied on internet and telephone communications in various countries as part of its project PRISM but claimed it was to keep tabs on terrorist activities.


In Rouseff’s speech she accused the NSA of intercepting diplomatic communiqués, personal data of citizens, corporate information and tampering with the affairs of a country.


“Information and telecommunication technologies cannot be the new battleground between states. This is the time to create the conditions to prevent cyberspace being implemented as a weapon of war by means of espionage, of sabotage, of attacks against systems and infrastructures of other countries”, she said while address the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations.


The Brazilian government plans to protect itself from future cyber threats by moving away from the U.S-centric internet,  including the laying fiber optic cables directly to Europe, Asia and Africa, building new Internet exchanges in Brazil to route traffic away from the US, and creating a government-run and encrypted email system.


Argentina has pledged to improve cyber defense capabilities since the PRISM fallout in cooperation with Brazil. Rio de Janeiro will host a bilateral cyber security meeting and in 2014 will begin to provide cyber warfare training to Argentine officers.


The Brazilian President is joined by other world leaders in criticizing the U.S government’s snooping.


In June, German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger compared the spying to "methods used by enemies during the Cold War." Federal prosecutors in Germany are looking to verify if the reported U.S. electronic surveillance programs broke German laws.


The European Union has threatened to suspend two agreements that grant the U.S access to European financial and travel data if the White House does not respect EU data privacy rules.


Belgium is also investigating suspected espionage against its main telecom service provider, Belgacom.  Federal prosecutors said the trespasser had used malicious software and advanced encryption techniques to collect information.


And earlier in July, the UK announced the formation of a new Joint Cyber Unit with offensive capabilities. The $800 million cyber strike force will be in-charge of defending the national security of the UK and “working at the cutting edge of the nation's cyber defences”.


"In response to the growing cyber threat, we are developing a full-spectrum military cyber capability, including a strike capability, to enhance the UK's range of military capabilities,” UK Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond said.


In Asia, India has banned the use of Google’s email service for official communication as a response to widespread cyberspying.


The United Arab Emirates will also enforce a similar ban beginning in November. Government employees also are not allowed to open unsolicited mail, spam or emails that contain viruses and the ban will include use of independent email providers such as Hotmail, Yahoo! and Gmail.


The new regulations, published in the government’s Official Gazette, also outline rules related to government employees accessing work emails on their mobile phones, including that the phone be set to automatically lock and require a password.


Plans are afoot for the UN to take the Internet issue seriously.  At the "Cybersecurity: Unchartered Waters for the UN," a panel discussion hosted by the German Mission and East West Institute in June 2013 in New York, Ambassador Peter Wittig called “framework for lawful state conduct in cyberspace. We should have clarity about the rules and norms that apply in cyberspace”.  


Ambassador Wittig called cybersecurity “a major cross-cutting issue of foreign policy,” where “the stakes are too high and too many lives are at risk for a mere laissez-faire approach.”


He admitted that cyber issues are rarely discussed within the UN and that this must change.


The US controls the Internet by having a monopoly over domain names. Other countries can only lease domain names from the U.S which also retains oversight of the Internet’s 13 rootservers; 10 of which are located in the US. 


In particular, it is with the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) where the control of the internet resides. The California-based independent organization acts as a phone book for the internet by synchronize websites globally (by name and address) to ensure computers know how to find each other.


Control over the Internet not only gives the US access to military, commercial and personal information, it is also immensely profitable. It is estimated that the Internet domain name and server hosting industry is worth around US$35 billion a year.


In 2011, Russian President Vladimir Putin he said he was keen to discuss "establishing international control over the internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union". 


India and China have since backed this proposal.


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