Future Of Internet After The Snowden Affair
By Boris Kazantsev
19 November, 2013
Edward Snowden’s recent revelations about American intelligence agencies’ wiretapping of European leaders, as well as their collection of the personal data of European citizens, will apparently have far-reaching implications which go far beyond a simple diplomatic scandal.
This was demonstrated by the EU summit which was held October 24-25, 2013. A measure of the degree the Europeans’ indignation over the revealed surveillance is the fact that instead of discussing burning economic issues, almost the entire summit was devoted to the tapping of the telephones of A. Merkel, F. Hollande and other European leaders. The joint statement of the summit participants made it clear: this must not continue! In an outburst of indignation, someone even proposed making the U.S. sign a special «anti-spying pact» with the countries of Europe in which the Americans would undertake a commitment not to conduct such unfriendly operations with regard to its allies.
Germany has already gone from discussing this issue to acting on it; a special delegation has gone to the U.S. with the task of reaching a decision on this matter. However, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that, although a meeting of representatives of the two countries did take place on October 30 at the White House, they did not reach a joint decision. According to media reports, the U.S. is continuing to resist the signing of an «anti-spying pact».
We would venture to guess that the discussion between the Germans and the Americans on this topic will remain fruitless. And not because the U.S. is afraid to sign a document that it would then have to honor; everyone understands that this paper would in the best of cases remain a «declaration of intent». It is just that the White House sincerely cannot grasp why it should sign anything at all that would limit the U.S. administration in its wishes, much less sign it with those whom it doesn’t completely consider its allies (Washington hasn’t forgotten Berlin’s position during the American invasion of Iraq).
And why should it limit itself in the sphere in which the U.S. has created exclusive unilateral advantages for itself? The topology of the World Wide Web and its technical component, the backbone network, is currently physically tied to the U.S., and 75% of world traffic goes through the United States. If you add the communication lines controlled by Great Britain, this figure goes up to 95%. And the Americans do not intend to give up the advantage which they have methodically protected for themselves over the past 20-30 years. All the more so since control of the Web is implemented by companies which are directly or indirectly connected with the United States government, such as ICANN, IANA, ISOC and several other companies over which international control is substantially limited. Furthermore, keeping control of the Internet in the hands of these organizations is a strategic long-term goal of the U.S. This is clear from the fact that the attempts of some countries to force ICANN (first and foremost) to hand over its powers to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) or any other international organization under the aegis of the UN have met with fierce opposition whose nature can be seen, for example, in the statements of Keith B. Alexander, yet the Director of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command.
ICANN is trying to look like it is actively seeking «compromise» solutions, but in practice all this is still U.S. control over the Web. An example of the Americans trying to talk their way out of the problem is the discussion of «multistakeholderism», wherein America, agreeing that the model for managing the Internet should be democratized, has suggested creating a management consortium on the base of ICANN which would include representatives of the abovementioned companies, representatives of big IT business, NGOs and some private individuals. It is quite obvious that such a model will not in the least take control of Web activities to a truly international level. It is equally hard to believe that ICANN wants to be rid of U.S. government control, as F. Chehadé, the head of the company, stated in late October 2013.
The ITU conference in Dubai in December 2012 was telling in this regard. At that time an attempt by Russia and China to put the issue of state sovereignty in the Internet on the agenda caused such fierce opposition from the U.S. and its satellites that at one point it threatened to disrupt the conference altogether. Furthermore, at the same time as the conference, a resolution was passed by the U.S. Congress promising «to promote a global Internet free from government control». In Dubai the U.S. position was partially supported by EU countries, including Germany.
However, recent events suggest that the positions of European countries could be subject to substantial correction. Mikko Hypponen, a leading researcher for the antivirus company F-Secure, recently stated that in his opinion, «the Internet has become a U.S. colony» to the detriment of democracy: «We’re back in the age of colonisation; we should think about the Americans as our masters. It’s an imbalanced situation. All the major services are based in the U.S.»
And Europe is already beginning to take certain steps to end U.S. supremacy. On the day the EU summit started, Germany, with the support of Brazil and several other Latin American countries, requested that the UN adapt the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to the realities of the Web’s operation. On November 11 a Resolution to that effect was submitted to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee for consideration. It urges all states «to review their procedures, practices and legislation regarding the surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data».
And on October 23 the European Parliament passed a resolution by a majority of votes denouncing the treaty on the SWIFT international banking information transfer and payment system, which provides the Americans with potential access to the bank data of Europeans.
Even more interesting are Germany’s recent initiatives in the sphere of reinforcing the security of Germans’ personal data. Philipp Blank, an official representative of Deutsche Telekom, stated to Deutsche Welle that the concern has an idea to launch a project for «national routing», that is, preventing Internet traffic from passing through network nodes located outside the country: «The idea is, contrary to today’s common practice, that data from a German sender to a German recipient will not be sent through another country.» It’s an expensive project, but the Germans is ready to bear the expense. It looks like the Europeans will soon remember that «digital sovereignty» is a complex problem which cannot simply be delegated to someone else (as Europe did with military security by delegating it to NATO, and thus de facto to the United States). It is not far from such ideas to China’s experience, which is becoming more and more sought after in the world.
Today the entire system for managing the Web is built on the technological dominance of the U.S., which undermines the majority of the efforts of other countries to protect national interests in cyberspace. The total dominance of such American IT companies as Google, Facebook or Microsoft, which actively cooperate with the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, make «digital sovereignty» even more illusory. Most likely the European Union will reconsider its entire conception of the construction of the European information society, which clearly does not meet modern security requirements. What the new model will be like is as yet unknown, but apparently it will herald a consistent departure from extreme liberalism, which has discredited itself in the conditions of the total cyberwar which the U.S. has started against the entire world…
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