Patrice Riemens on Tue, 29 Oct 2013 14:11:13 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Misha Glenny: The Snowden leaks have weakened American control of

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Leaks have weakened American control of the web
By Misha Glenny, Financial Times, Oct 28, 2013.

Edward Snowden?s actions are transforming global communications policy,
says Misha Glenny

>From the moment they appeared, Edward Snowden?s revelations have been
making life awkward for Barack Obama. Before his first summit with Xi
Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, the US president stressed he would be
raising as a priority the issue of Beijing?s frenetic cyber espionage
activities. The day before the meeting, however, the UK?s Guardian
newspaper published the first slew of allegations leaked by the former
contractor for the US National Security Agency, revealing the breathtaking
extent of America?s espionage programme.

As the revelations emerge, each more embarrassing than the last, the US
stands to lose much more than just face. Control of the internet is
slipping from its hands, too.

Just months separate the meeting with Mr Xi from a low-key summit in
Montevideo, Uruguay. Here, a few days ago, the Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers kicked out at the land of its birth: the US.
The non-profit body joined other obscure groups responsible for the nuts
and bolts of the internet in calling for ?the globalisation of its
functions in which all stakeholders, including governments, participate on
an equal footing?.

This means the impact of the Snowden dossier is being felt at the very
heart of global communications policy, and it does not look good for the
US. The Montevideo communiqué cited ?strong concern over the undermining
of the trust and confidence of internet users globally due to recent
revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance?.

Control over the widgets that run the internet is contentious. Countries
outside the US have been demanding changes for some time. Although the
internet was largely an American invention, it has become a global
technology. Russia and China have led protests that it is untenable for
control to reside, physically and politically, with the US.

The Snowden revelations are hastening that process in groups such as
Icann. They are also likely to heighten tensions in the International
Telecommunications Union, one of the oldest global bodies, founded in
1869. The ITU has until now ? including during the two world wars ? taken
all its decisions by consensus in order to keep lines of communication
open. But in December divisions emerged at an ITU summit in Dubai to
discuss internet administration. China and Russia sought more control over
the internet in their territories. EU countries supported the US position,
backing the rights of companies to unfettered access to users wherever
they may be. India, Brazil and South Africa, where internet usage is
expanding rapidly, were more sympathetic to Beijing and Moscow.

The Snowden leaks turned from debilitating to toxic in September, when
Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist who broke the story, published an
article in O Globo, Brazil?s biggest daily. This alleged that the US had
been monitoring the phone, email and web browser of Dilma Rousseff, the
Brazilian president. There has been no clear denial from Washington.

These revelations, followed by equally embarrassing leaks about Mexico,
France and Germany, have opened a whole fresh chapter. It is one thing
picking on individuals who may be terrorist suspects ? but systematically
spying on your allies has transported this story into a new domain. The
news that the NSA was also intercepting communications from Petrobras, the
state-controlled Brazilian oil company, gives lie to US claims that the
security agency is not used for commercial espionage against its friends.

In Britain, former diplomats and spies have been lining up to appear on
radio and television to play down the significance of allegations of NSA
eavesdropping on German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president
François Hollande. Distilled, they argue that everyone knows everyone
spies on everyone else, and French and German indignation is chiefly for
domestic consumption.

This does not wash. The Brazilians are incandescent about the Snowden
dossier. Allied presidents do not cancel state visits to Washington, as Ms
Rousseff did, without very good reason. Furthermore, Brazil is seeking to
cordon off some of its internet connections to reduce its vulnerability to

The EU has begun reconsidering its data-sharing deal with the US through
Swift, the global payments system. It is also considering preventing
American companies gathering customers? data on behalf of the NSA, except
with specific permission from EU authorities.

Not even Mr Snowden could have imagined he would have such a serious
impact on global communications policy. But the NSA?s hubris has resulted
in an encounter with its nemesis, in the form of a 30-year-old American.

Nobody can predict what the internet will look like in five years? time ?
but the end result could be an increasingly fragmented network, where
nation states build up their digital frontiers and governments increase
their control over what their citizens can and cannot do online.

[Misha Glenny is author of ?DarkMarket: How Hackers Became the New Mafia?]

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