NSA Blowback Spreads to Internet Governance Organizations

The Thousand Nights and a Night Translated and Annotated by Richard F. Burton - Courtesy WikiMedia CommonsThe unexpected disclosures of NSA activities by Edward Snowden presents a splendid example of U.S. government, as well as popular, indifference to world opinion. As part of its efforts to control the political damage of the embarrassing revelations, the Obama administration repeatedly stressed that only foreign nationals had been the targeted. As the breathtaking breadth of the data accessed and analyzed became clear, this rationale raised the question of how the foreign citizens - and even leaders - of U.S. allies might feel about being considered to be fair game for the NSA’s attention.

The answer to that question is that they weren’t happy.  Nor, as we will see, were a group of NGOs that had no reason to think they were targeted at all.

Some foreign governments doubtless communicated their concerns privately through diplomatic channels.  But others made their displeasure very public indeed. Brazil’s President Dima Rouseff, for one, cancelled a bilateral summit with President Obama after it was reported that her telephone calls and email had been intercepted. Late last week, she went a step further, announcing that Brazil will host a global summit to oppose U.S. surveillance.

Rouseff’s announcement, following on her earlier stinging remarks in a speech before the UN   received wide press coverage.  But another statement issued in South America last week received almost no notice at all.

The declaration in question was issued following a meeting in Uruguay of the five non-profit organizations principally involved in maintaining the infrastructure of the Internet, together with the four name registry organizations that manage the Internet addressing system on a regional level. The ten organizations issued a joint press release titled Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation, which is reproduced in full at the end of this blog entry.

Press releases following such meetings indeed often are bland and contain little that is newsworthy.  But this one is different, in that two of the four reporting statements are aimed squarely at the US.  They include the following:

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 •    …They expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance.
•    They called for accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing. 

The first point is a clear reference to the NSA’s now-public data mining, while the second is a call for the U.S., which oversees ICANN through the Department of Commerce, to cede its control over the IANA – the Internet Assigned Names Authority and the root directories that it manages. America’s control of ICANN has been a source of periodic friction between the U.S. and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which has long regretted the fact that the Internet got away from it, and has periodically mounted an effort to get it back.  But the possibility that the U.S. could theoretically use its control of ICANN to disrupt a rival nation’s Internet traffic in time of war understandably angers some nations, while others simply resent the fact that one country should exercise significant control over what has become such a vastly important global resource.

Now the NSA has handed opponents of American control of ICANN a golden opportunity to raise the hue and cry once again. More seriously, it has provided a credible reason for additional nations to join in the call for the U.S. to give up control of ICANN. Perhaps worst of all for the home team, the revelations have persuaded not only the normally apolitical W3C, IETF, Internet Architecture Board and Internet Society to call for the U.S. to give up control of the root directories, but ICANN itself has joined in the call. Nor was ICANN’s opposition to US actions limited to participating in the Montevideo Statement.  According to an article at the International Business Times Web site, the decision by Brazil’s president to call for a global anti-surveillance summit came after, “a consultation” with ICANN’s chief executive, Fadi Chehade. Presumably there will be some interesting conversations to be held between Chehade and his handlers at the Department of Commerce.

It’s likely that Edward Snowden hardly foresaw a loss of control over the root directories of the Internet as one possible consequence of his dramatic disclosures. It’s even more certain that the NSA did not anticipate such an outcome when it launched its vast data interception and mining project. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, though, it doesn’t seem so surprising. And, like the genie of myth, it doesn’t look like this one will be inclined to return to the bottle.

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Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation


7 October 2013— The leaders of organizations responsible for coordination of the Internet technical infrastructure globally have met in Montevideo, Uruguay, to consider current issues affecting the future of the Internet.

The Internet and World Wide Web have brought major benefits in social and economic development worldwide. Both have been built and governed in the public interest through unique mechanisms for global multistakeholder Internet cooperation, which have been intrinsic to their success. The leaders discussed the clear need to continually strengthen and evolve these mechanisms, in truly substantial ways, to be able to address emerging issues faced by stakeholders in the Internet.

In this sense:

•    They reinforced the importance of globally coherent Internet operations, and warned against Internet fragmentation at a national level. They expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance.
•    They identified the need for ongoing effort to address Internet Governance challenges, and agreed to catalyze community-wide efforts towards the evolution of global multistakeholder Internet cooperation.
•    They called for accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.
•    They also called for the transition to IPv6 to remain a top priority globally. In particular Internet content providers must serve content with both IPv4 and IPv6 services, in order to be fully reachable on the global Internet.

Adiel A. Akplogan, CEO
African Network Information Center (AFRINIC)

John Curran, CEO
American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN)

Paul Wilson, Director General
Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC)

Russ Housley, Chair
Internet Architecture Board (IAB)

Fadi Chehadé, President and CEO
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)

Jari Arkko, Chair
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)

Lynn St. Amour, President and CEO
Internet Society (ISOC)

Raúl Echeberría, CEO
Latin America and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry (LACNIC)

Axel Pawlik, Managing Director
Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC)

Jeff Jaffe, CEO
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

Comments (1)

  1. The NSA and assorted secret services from the US and UK have shown clearly that we (non-nationals) are the enemy. In response should we look at them as friends? Or should we consider them our enemies?


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