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19 Oct 2013
A lot of people (including me) are pretty upset at revelations of the breadth and scale of NSA spying on the Internet, which has created a great deal of ill will toward the US government? Will this be a turning point in Internet Governance?
No, smoke will continue to be blown and nothing will happen.
Governments are not monolithic. What people call Internet governance is mostly at the DNS application level, and perhaps the IP address allocation. The NSA is snooping down in the tubes, the underlying networks, and servers located in the U.S., where none of this matters. They do have a few DNS based attacks, but they'd work the same way regardless of who was running the real DNS servers.
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff addressed the UN:
Rousseff called on the UN oversee a new global legal system to govern the internet. She said such multilateral mechanisms should guarantee the "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.
This is what is known in technical circles as a crock. Nation states can and will spy on any traffic that passes through their territory. This shouldn't come as any surprise to people who are familar with, say, the history of World War I. (See Telegram, Zimmermann.)
One detail that seems to elude a lot of the governance crowd is that the Internet is designed so that everything is voluntary. If you want to force networks to do stuff they are not inclined to do, the only modes of influence are threats of disconnection, or for networks within a specific country, legal pressure from their own government.
The countries that make all the noise have zero leverage over US networks because their networks have far more to lose than we do if they disconnect, both because so much content is hosted in the US, and because so many transit routes run through the US.
When I was at the ISOC/ITU/OAS spam day in Mendoza last week, I was talking to a guy who worked for a large Internet vendor. He told me that the pricing within Brazil is still so screwed up that it's often price competitive to buy circuits to Miami and peer with other Brazilian and South American networks there. As far as content neutrality, it's still in pretty good shape on long haul circuits, although I expect "neutrality" in the speech above is code for we don't want to pay the whole cost of circuits to Miami.
If Brazil wanted to stop US spying on their traffic, they could fix their domestic telephone prices and build a few domestic Internet exchanges, so their networks all exchanged traffic directly with each other, and with other South American networks, rather than via Miami. This would not be particularly expensive, although it would make the de facto telephone monopoly unhappy.
If Brazil built more submarine cables that went other places than the US, e.g. Africa and Europe, which would be a good idea for redundancy and shorter transit times, they'd probably be spied on less by the US, and more by whoever is at the other end of the cables. Someone commented that cables are expensive, but so are football stadiums.
Perhaps someday they'll have robust enough networks to route directly rather than through the US and enough going on other places to provide the content their users want without fetching it from the US, but building that is expensive. In governance discussions, spending one's own money has always been beyond the pale.
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