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Revelations about the National Security Agency’s worldwide surveillance activities have led some world leaders to question the wisdom of a U.S.-dominated World Wide Web. Leading the pack is Brazil, whose President Dilma Rousseff is already considering measures to reconfigure the way Brazilians access the Web, by circumventing U.S.-controlled servers. The debate comes to a head this week at the U.N.’s annual Internet Governance Forum. Kojo discusses possible changes in store for Internet users around the world.
- Craig Timberg National Technology Reporter, The Washington Post
- Zeynep Tufekci Fellow, Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy; assistant professor, department of sociology and School of Information, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
- Tim Maurer Policy Analyst, Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. When President Obama stood in front of the American public and promised the National Security Agency was not reading emails from US citizens, non-US citizens were listening too. And the two billion internet users overseas have not been happy. In Germany, internet users are fleeing American web companies like gmail for German based services.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn China, American hardware sales are plummeting. And Brazil is speeding up efforts to get Brazilian data out of US web servers. The outrage brewing overseas is making it increasingly clear that NSA revelations are causing more than a foreign policy problem. It's calling the US's dominant role over the web directly into question. This week, world leaders in internet policy will meet at the UN's annual Internet Governance Forum and take the topic head on.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to discuss it in our Washington studio is Craig Timberg, National Technology Reporter for The Washington Post. Craig, good to see you again.
MR. CRAIG TIMBERGIt's great to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIJoining us from studios at UNC, Chapel Hill is Zeynep Tufekci. She's a fellow at Princeton's Institute For Technology Information Policy, a Faculty Associate at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and a Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Zeynep, thank you for joining us.
MS. ZEYNEP TUFEKCIThank you for inviting me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Bali where the 2013 Internet Governance Forum is being held is Tim Maurer. He is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Open Technology Institute, a program of the New America Foundation. Tim Maurer, thank you for joining us.
MR. TIM MAURERThanks for having me on the show.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call. 800-433-8850. Craig, I'll start with you. Since the beginning of the internet, a US led coalition has dominated internet policy. It's been that way for three decades. So, what could make that change?
TIMBERGI'm not 100 percent sure that anything can really, really make it change. But, there's clearly a huge backlash around the world as people have learned the extent of NSA surveillance. And how intrusive it is, and how pervasive it is, and as much as Americans were not thrilled to learn this, people in other countries who had far fewer protections, really no meaningful protections at all, have been awfully angry, including the President of Brazil, whose email, apparently, was being read. And today, the French newspapers have reports about surveillance of their country.
TIMBERGAnd so, particularly for countries that are allies of ours, this has been shocking and unpleasant.
NNAMDIZeynep, in debates over who should govern the web, the US has portrayed itself as a champion of internet freedom. And on the other end, it puts countries like Iran and China, that are known for censoring information online. How strong is that argument now, given the revelations of NSA surveillance?
TUFEKCIIt's taking a massive hit, and that is really unfortunate, because internet freedom already needed a lot of supporters. And by making this kind of massive surveillance, sort of normalizing it, it's becoming harder and harder to argue and get allies who will defend internet freedom.
NNAMDITim Maurer, the leading internet organization, known as ICANN, has called for a more global approach to internet governance. That could mean an international governing body set up by the United Nations would oversee the internet. How would that change what the internet looks like?
MAURERI think that really depends on what exactly such a new reformed governance model would look like. And I think what's important is that ICANN has been part of the model that was set up, historically, and the model that you elude to, in terms of a more UN focused oversight body would involve -- would have a stronger role of the International Telecommunications Union. So, there are different actors involved in terms of ICANN, but also the ITU.
NNAMDITim, over the weekend, you attended the Conference on Cyberspace in Seoul, and now you're in Bali for the annual Internet Governance Forum that starts tomorrow. These are two important meetings on internet policy. How have you seen the NSA leaks play into conversations, discussions so far? And what are you expecting from the days to come?
MAURERSo, what was clear in Seoul is that the political environment, I think, has changed as a result of the disclosures. It was less so in direct references to the disclosures, but you can still tell that there has been a shift. It's been a lot more explicit, already, during the pre-day events that took place today here at the IGF in Bali, where some of the speakers, such as the Director of the Citizen Lab, Ron Deibert, made very explicit references to the disclosures, and pointed out that they've changed the landscape and that there needs to be a discussion about this elephant in the room and how it will affect the internet governance processes.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. Who should control the web? Should it be left to the private sector or should there be an international representative governing body? What's your point of view? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. An important part of this conversation is the fact that not all internet users have the same protections under US law. The US doesn't recognize the rights of non-US citizens in other countries. Starting with you, Craig, what does that mean when they go online and use US based web companies like Gmail and Facebook?
TIMBERGCertainly anything they do on Gmail or Facebook or really anything online can be surveiled by the NSA. But also by similar organizations with virtually every government in the world, and so the revelations that Edward Snowden has made possible certainly have turned the attention on the NSA, but it's worth remembering that the British and the French and the Germans and the Israelis and the Chinese and the Russians and the Syrians and the South Africans and anyone you can think of is doing some version of this.
TIMBERGAnd so, I don't know, my feeling is there's a little bit of a caveat emptor attitude that people need to take when they're on the internet. It's not private space, and if, to the extent that we once thought that, we now know that it's not true.
NNAMDISame question to you, Zeynep Tufekci.
TIMBERGThe important difference that came with these revelations is that that US is using its sort of privileged position in internet governance, and the fact that a lot of Silicon Valley companies are here, to spy. So, it's absolutely true, you know? Most governments are spying on their citizens, as well. So, it's probably good this came to light. But what I fear might happen is that a lot of governments might use this to balkanize the internet and say, well, we don't want the NSA spying on our citizens.
TUFEKCIWe may spy on our citizens. So, we may end up with less protections, overall, for everyone. It could be a race to the bottom.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you think all internet users, US citizen or not, should have the same protections under US law? Tim Maurer, the question on when people go online in other countries using US based web companies like Gmail and Facebook.
MAURERYeah, I very much agree with what was already said. And what I've noticed here at the IGF is this is more the kind of forum where you actually hear those voices being heard because you have a very strong civil society presence here. Which, compared to the Seoul conference, is quite different, because, in Seoul, you have primarily government representatives, in terms of who was setting the agenda and driving the process.
MAURERHere at the IGF, you have government, civil society and companies all at the same table. And I think, I agree with Craig in terms of this is an issue that's not just -- with regard to the US government, but governments overall. And the question is, how do governments around the world use this new technology that enables a number of new tools for their purposes? And how do we govern this? By law or other means?
NNAMDITim, Brazil has been the most vocal opponent to the US's control over the web. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has taken up measures to keep Brazilian data out of American web servers, including rerouting the flow of data so that an email sent from Brazil to France doesn't first go through Miami. Are any of those proposals practical, or are they purely political?
MAURERThat's the big question right now. In terms of actually making it happen, it depends on whether this will be implemented at a hardware or software level. And how much money is the Brazilian government actually willing to invest in this? So, remember that the internet, in and of itself, is manmade, so you can change the underlying infrastructure. And that's what is what the balkanization of the internet eludes to. That you can actually take measures that changes the internet as we know it, and will lead to a very different infrastructure. And very different outcomes in terms of the benefits that we've all enjoyed ever since it's been around.
MAURERAnd that's why this has become such a big and very important issue.
NNAMDICraig, how effective would these kinds of changes be in protecting the privacy of, say, Brazilian internet users?
TIMBERGWell, you know, it's funny. My wife has lots of Brazilian friends because she was an exchange student here. There rather. And they're on Facebook all the time, right? So, there's a certain amount of walling off you can do, but if they're on Facebook, they're going through a US system, and if they're on Gmail, they're going through a US system. And, you know, it's a little glib to think of the internet being US controlled. What you have is ICANN, which is what assigns URLs, the addresses.
TIMBERGAnd then you have a lot of companies that are American, that are dominant players in their spaces. It's not as though, you know, all of these things are being decided by the US Congress or by the President. The internet is substantially really ungoverned spaces. And that's part of the problem. That's one reason why all sorts of people, and not just governments, can surveil you there, because it is a little bit of a free for all. And so I don't know if the kinds of technical solutions they're talking about would really, meaningfully improve the privacy of Brazilians or anybody else.
NNAMDIZeynep, if countries assume full sovereignty over their users' data and say, only the Brazilian government have access to Brazilians' activity online, could users abroad expect their own governments to respect their privacy?
TUFEKCIWell, that will obviously depend from country to country, but by normalizing massive surveillances as sort of day to day government thing, I think this will just hurt everybody's argument. And also, pretty much dissident I know from around the world, which is my research area, uses Gmail, partly because they're trying to hide from their own government or uses services like riseup.net that are based in US or Canada. And a lot of them are shaking their heads, wondering what next.
TUFEKCIBecause it's not that NSA might be their bigger problem. But if this kind of surveillance is going on, and if the internet gets, sort of, cut off into little spaces, where will they go? What will they do? So, a lot of major questions are coming up.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us, give us a call at 800-433-8850. With revelations about NSA data collection abroad, can the US defend its role as chief steward of a free and open web? What do you think? 800-433-8850. Tim, Brazil began seeking greater sovereignty over domestic communications well before Edward Snowden leaked any information about NSA surveillance, so how much of this push against US influence is new, and what is just a continuation of past efforts?
MAURERI think that's a great question, Kojo. And I think that's where we need some more nuance in this debate. Because, to a certain degree, it really depends on what kind of technical measures we are talking about. Remember that the internet right now, as you initially mentioned, is only being accessed by two billion people around the globe. That means you have another five billion that have yet to gain access. Which also means that the internet continues to expand, as it's been expanding over the past decade.
MAURERAnd that means that you will have other countries building out their own infrastructure. So, there's somewhat of a natural, kind of, expansion of the technical infrastructure, which will take place, which will need to take place to give people greater access. The question is, what measures are taken, not for that, based on that need, but for political reasons. And I think that's where we see some of the proposals that have come out that are now primarily driven politically and not from a technical perspective. And those are the ones that are of concern when we talk about the balkanization of the internet that deserve greater scrutiny and also push back because this is what threatens the interoperability and the openness of the internet as we know it.
NNAMDIZeynep, how much of this rivalry among global economic powers existed before this debate started?
TUFEKCIWell, this was certainly there before this. U.S., because of Silicon Valley, has this enormous economic and commercial advantage. And I suspect what we'll be seeing is some countries might start putting -- for example, if they're going to build something locally, they might start putting restrictions on whether something can be in the cloud in the U.S. because of, you know, these data protection measures.
TUFEKCIAnd it may come from say the European Union that is concerned about privacy. Or this may come from other countries that are concerned about being able to surveil their own citizens. So it could be both for good reason or bad reasons. And a country might say you cannot, you know, have official communication, for example, with the -- say the Brazilian government from a gmail address or things like that. That might start pushing back against what somebody else was speaking about that, well, everybody uses Facebook. Everybody uses gmail.
TUFEKCIIf there's this, you know, big national push, we might start seeing that change too. And what we have seen is Brazil used to be very much on Orkut, another social network, and then everybody switched to Facebook. So these switches can be fast. We think of Facebook, it's so dominant, it'll never change. No, but this is the internet. Cascades can happen fast, so we shouldn't take any of this for granted. It could change in a couple of years.
NNAMDIHere's John in Washington, D.C. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNYes, hello. I have a real quick question. I was wondering really about, somebody touched earlier on the fact that other countries might start listening into their own citizens' activities as a result of the balkanization efforts or balkanization theory. But my question is that privacy concerns aside -- and I understand the problem of the privacy concern -- what do people think that NSA is going to do with this information?
JOHNI understand privacy issues. That's not my point. It's like, do people think that the NSA is going to start quashing rebel groups in Syria or decedent groups in China? I mean, why is there a concern among people in the community about NSA having this information in the first place? What are they going to do with it?
NNAMDIYou mean people in the International Community? You mean, why would the president of Brazil be upset to find out that the NSA has been monitoring her emails?
JOHNNo, I'm not talking about the president of Brazil. I'm talking about the people that are lower opposition groups and stuff like that, people who are concerned about their privacy and so on and so forth. Do people really think that the NSA is going to -- or the U.S. government is going to make sure that the law is going to be enforced in another country?
NNAMDIZeynep, care to respond to that?
TUFEKCIWell, sure. This is their most private communication so it seems reasonable that they wouldn't want a foreign government that they don't elect and that has no responsibility to them to have access to this kind of private information. You know, this is independent of what you think the U.S. government does or does not do. They might be opposing a U.S. policy. You know, in the Middle East this is very common.
TUFEKCIThey might feel, I think, justifiably concerned that a government that has no legal responsibility to them gets to see their most private communication. It doesn't necessarily mean they're doing something wrong. I think that's just sort of a red herring. Would you want the Brazilian government to know everything you're doing, especially if that government was involved very much in your region? I think it's a reasonable concern. It doesn't have to be based on an exact scenario for people to want, as I said, to keep their private communication private.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation on internet governance and U.S. foreign policy. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number's 800-433-8850. Do you think countries that have, well, less than perfect human rights records should get a say in global issues of internet governance, 800-433-8850? You can send email to email@example.com or shoot us a Tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on internet governance and U.S. foreign policy. We're talking with Tim Maurer. He's a senior policy analyst at the Open Technology Institute. That's a program of the New America Foundation. Also with us is Craig Timberg, national technology reporter for the Washington Post and Zeynep Tufekci is a fellow at Princeton's Institute for Technology Information Policy. She's also a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a faculty associate of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
NNAMDIWe said you can call us with your questions or comments at 800-433-8850. You could also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Zeynep, we began this conversation with Craig Timberg indicating that he was not exactly sure what could make a change in the U.S.-led coalition that has dominated internet policy. So U.S. surveillance aside, Zeynep, many of these countries seem to be asking, if we're connected to the web why can't we have equal say in how it's governed? How strong is that argument?
TUFEKCIWell, the argument is strong in some sense but obviously it is of concern if countries with much less than perfect records on human rights and surveillance themselves get more say. In fact, there has been this brewing coalition of authoritarian governments, also with governments who're sort of want to censor religiously sensitive content in governments that want to control the internet better have already been getting together before this to sort of undermine what U.S. and its allies of champion, which is more a First Amendment based -- you know, free-speech based internet.
TUFEKCINow, I think the best scenario out of this is if the world comes together with an understanding of the internet as a place for free speech where you'd have some protections from unwarranted privacy and surveillance. The worst case scenario is that, you know, a lot of countries -- some for good reasons, some for not -- get together and turn it into an internet that is even more surveillable. And that is even, you know, less hospitable to free speech. And I think it could go either way. At this point it's not clear where it's going to go.
NNAMDIHere is Larisa in Washington, D.C. on the phone. Larisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LARISAHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I immigrated from the Soviet Union in 1978. And now the United States reminds me in so many ways of what I've been through in the Soviet Union. And there is a Russian writer, his name is Yevgeny Zamyatin who wrote a novel -- futuristic novel back then. It was in the '20s called "We." And he described the country of the future. But compared to what the U.S. government is doing now it's so -- it's just laughable. For instance...
NNAMDIYou speaking specifically about the NSA programs?
LARISANSA programs, everything. The people are -- you know, people didn't live through that. And they cannot properly identify and experience it. And when I talk to Americans and tell them what's going on and how I lived through that, they said, you've opened our eyes. We've never thought about it. We thought that we're -- there are so many enemies. And that's what the soviet union was doing, you know. We were...
NNAMDIOkay. Larisa, thank you very much for your call. Craig Timberg, with people seeing that the NSA spying, so to speak, is even a greater invasion of privacy, Der Spiegel has reported that a German email provider has seen a surge of new users since the NSA programs came to light. What does this say about how U.S. surveillance programs will end up affecting U.S. web companies trying to reach international audiences? And please feel free to respond to the question implied by Larisa that the U.S. is becoming a security state much like what she experienced in the Soviet Union.
TIMBERGYeah, it's a little beyond my area of expertise unfortunately. But I do completely understand why people are really creeped out by what they've learned about the NSA. And I think that -- I don't mean to minimize the concerns in the other parts of the world because I think people would be creeped out if they knew what other governments in other part of the world would be doing . They would be creeped out if they knew what criminals were doing. I mean, the fact is that we are just way more exposed online than we probably understood until fairly recently.
TIMBERGSo, you know, I just don't know quite where this conversation goes. I do know that the American companies are awfully concerned about the prospect that they'll be major flight away from them in other parts of the world. But, I don't know, is a German company really going to rise up and challenge Google? I mean, Google is even more dominant in search in Europe than it is in the United States. And Facebook continues to grow around the world.
TIMBERGSo I do think that one thing these companies clearly respond to is consumer pressure. If they feel like they're losing their customers, they're going to respond. But let's be clear about this. They weren't by and large volunteering their services to the NSA, right. They were facing court orders. The NSA was in some case just tapping into fiber optic cables around the world. So, you know, let's everybody abandon Google. It's not like whatever replaces it would be necessarily impervious to NSA surveillance. What they -- the kind of technology they're deploying is incredibly sophisticated.
NNAMDITim Maurer, what do you say to the fact that a German email provider has seen a surge of new users since the NSA programs came to light?
MAURERI think it's a sign of that -- the fact that this is not limited to the United States, and an issue of concern for U.S. citizens. But that this has had implications for U.S. foreign policy and the internet policy debate around the world. One thing that I wanted to add to the caller earlier today was...
MAURER...actually in reference to the human rights counsel at the UN which has adopted a resolution that affirms that human rights apply online as well as offline. So when we talk about internet governance, I think it's very clear that states already affirmed that human rights apply online as well as offline. And that the internet that we know need to embed those human rights. And this includes privacy and it includes freedom of expression.
MAURERWhere, I think, there is an important distinction and also when we think about how to address the problem and take into account the historic examples of the Soviet Union and other countries and apply that to the United States today, there's a question of oversight and rule of law and the need for transparency so that it's known what kind of activity is actually taking place under what law. And that you have the systems in place that the people can actually respond to that and then say, no this is something that we disagree with.
MAURERAnd this is something where either through voting or through other means in talking, I mean, with congress so that you work then on finding the right balance. And I think that's a challenge that we are currently facing within the United States. And then the second piece to that is what you eluded to with regard to the German reaction, how do you do that with an audience that's not within your own borders but outside, and that are affected by your activity?
NNAMDIZeynep, I don't know if you wanted to respond to our caller Larisa's comparisons with her life in the Soviet Union and what she sees here as a creeping security state.
TUFEKCIWell, I do want to first say, though, even though Facebook and Google are very dominant, so was My Space at some point, internet is not a place where you can really rest on your laurels. As far as her concern, I mean, obviously this kind of surveillance being normalized is a concern. The first amendment, the fact that a lot of internet companies operated in the U.S. on their First Amendment norms has really expanded free speech globally. I mean, I think that's been a good thing. It's been this sort of value that has spread partly because a lot of U.S. companies just did not restrict speech the way other countries would like to.
TUFEKCIWe also have the Fourth Amendment but never seeing the opposite kind of diffusion, if you will, of surveillance becoming just out in the open but normalized without the kind of oversight you would've had. And that's really unfortunate. And I've heard this from people in other countries who do live under massive surveillance, who are thinking, you know we thought U.S. would be one place where, you know, the Fourth Amendment -- just like the First Amendment protects free speech, Fourth Amendment would be this incredible law that would protect people, and a lot of disappointment that there's no place to turn to lead the world in this.
NNAMDIHere's Arnie in Manassas, Va. Arnie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ARNIEHi. Thanks for taking my call, Kojo. I really enjoy the show. I was listening to the discussion going on and it seems like the problem with internet surveillance is for someone who wants to have a political career in the U.S., not for just an average person who is using the internet to buy, you know, something mundane from Amazon or sign up for health care or anything. Like, it's anyone that doesn't want dirt out there on them. That seems like why this NSA surveillance would be an anathema them.
NNAMDIDo you feel the same way about your phone calls?
ARNIEI, you know, don't do anything on the phone that I don't do on the internet that is that -- you know, it's not that racy, sorry. Same as my texts. It's, what time are you coming home? What do you want to have for dinner, like to my wife. It's...
NNAMDISo you feel that no matter where they are in the world, anybody in the world should expect to have their privacy invaded because...
ARNIENo, no. I would say that...
NNAMDI...we can do it?
ARNIENo. I would say that because it's the internet, it's the same as using like a bullhorn announcing things. Someone on Facebook worrying about someone looking at a picture that they posted, don't post the picture. I don't understand what the issue is there.
NNAMDICraig Timberg, what do you say to Arnie?
TIMBERGWell, I think there's a lot of maturity in his view about what he's communicating himself and posting himself. And that -- I think we all are kind of moving in that direction a little bit. But I say it's more than just people who aspire to politics. I'm a journalist, right. Sometimes I have communications with people that I'd rather not be known immediately to the U.S. government.
TIMBERGAnd, you know, I imagine there's lots of people in lots of walks of life who feel like they're doing legitimate things that they'd like to not have the government or frankly, anybody else know about. And I just think it's such a puzzling conundrum of our ages that we suddenly can do all these amazing things because the digital world allows it. And yet it exposes us in this totally new and profound way, not merely to having our behavior intercepted at the moment, but having our behavior archived so that years later someone could say, oh, you know, why were you looking at that website? Or why were you talking with that person who later turned out to have a friend who worked for whatever?
TIMBERGI mean, it is -- so a certain degree of maturity is in order. And a certain degree of anxiety seems to be in order. And my only point earlier was, I just don't know what to do about it other than to take reasonable steps to protect yourself. But on a kind of policy level, I don't know how we solve these problems.
NNAMDIZeynep, American tech companies like Google and Facebook have clashed with some foreign governments over policies like free speech and privacy. If the internet is put in the hands of a global governing body, will these web companies be able to maintain their current policies?
TUFEKCIWell, there's no reason they shouldn't. There really is no reason that they cannot comply with -- sort of have good terms of service and comply with them. And I really want to disagree with this if you have nothing to hide then you're okay on the internet view. People do a lot of things that are very, very private and very sensitive. They may search about illnesses, they may search about their fears. They may look up things. The idea that we should be just exposed by default, nobody would use the internet and that would be bad for the companies too.
TUFEKCII think it's in the companies' interests to stand up for their users to all governments and really say, we're going to respect their right to privacy. We're going to respect their right to free speech. And there's a lot they can do that I think they haven't yet done so far. I mean, the Google may have stood up to the Chinese government but Google also needs to stand up for users everywhere. And Facebook and all of them and say, what can we do so that not just free speech but privacy and, you know, living free of unnecessary and unwarranted surveillance is a core value of the internet.
TUFEKCIOtherwise the internet's doomed, I have to say, because that anxiety, that's just going to spread. And people are going to stop using the internet as much.
NNAMDITim, last year Congress passed a resolution that opposed the United Nations taking control over the web. Ultimately, what power does Congress have over this issue?
MAURERI think it was an important statement in terms of expressing the views of Congress. The World Conference on International Telecommunications that you just referenced. I think what's important to bear in mind, and as you know when you mentioned ICANN is, that this is not about the UN taking over the Internet. Yes. There are some governments that have expressed very strong views that the ITU should play a stronger role in this, but this is only a subset of countries.
MAURERI think the larger trend that we are seeing is that what used to be primarily driven by technologists, if we think of the Internet Engineering Task Force and many of the other groups that have written the protocols and that have set up the Internet the way it works today, they are now increasingly being replaced by politicians and government officials and the Internet governance processes have become more politicized. So it's less a -- it is a question of what is the roll of the ITU and other UN organizations, but it's also a big question of governments becoming more involved and changing the existing processes and institutions and how do you deal with that in that that's not how the way -- that's not how the Internet was set up initially and that's not how the institutions were set up that were some the main driving factors in making the Internet what it is today.
NNAMDIWe'll be taking a short break, but then we'll return to this conversation. If you've called, stay on the line. The number is 800-433-8850. With revelations about NSA data collection abroad, can the U.S. defend its role as chief steward of a free and open web? 800-433-8850. Send us email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on Internet governance and U.S. foreign policy with Zeynep Tufekci. She's a fellow at Princeton's Institute for Technology Information Policy, a faculty associate at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Tim Maurer is a senior policy analyst at the Open Technology Institute. That's a program of the New America Foundation, and Craig Timberg is national technology reporter for the Washington Post.
NNAMDICraig, we've talked a great deal about the government might be listening and reading -- listening to our calls and reading our emails. We haven't talked about how private companies are doing the same thing, maybe for different reasons.
TIMBERGI mean, their reasons are commercial, right? Their goal is to sell us stuff, and their thinking is that the better they can target an ad to you, you know, something that you want when you want it, the more likely they are to sell a product, and all the evidence suggests they're right. And, you know, their defense of this is well, you use Gmail for free, you use Facebook for free, you know, who do you think pays for all the this infrastructure, and they're not without point. But it's naïve to think that the government is the only institution that is watching what you do online.
TIMBERGAnd advertisers are tracking you across the Internet, news websites are tracking you as you move around. They're trying to learn who you are so they can sell you stuff. Now, they may not know that you're Kojo Nnamdi, but they will have a tracking code on you as you move around, and they now increasingly can figure out that if you use a certain desktop computer, you also use this certain iPhone, you also use this certain tablet, and they will continue to target ads at you across platforms.
TIMBERGSo, as I said, it's a many armed beast. When you really start to think about the privacy implications of all this stuff, it is really unnerving.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Jessica, which I will direct to you Zeynep. Jessica says, "If the United States is not one of the leaders the Internet governance, what might we as global citizens be trading for a diminished U.S. role?"
TUFEKCIThe U.S. is currently one of the leaders Internet governance. That's one on their question. What we might be trading is as I keep saying, even more normalized surveillance and increasingly, they also do know you're Kojo Nnamdi. The idea, you know, they do. It's just true. And it just crept up on us, because it's been possible, but there has been alliance of governments who want to use that data as we've seen for surveillance and corporations who want to use that data to sell you stuff.
TUFEKCISo they've both been quiet, and they've been kind of both doing it as quietly as possible and not letting you know. And the Snowden revelations kind of at least made the U.S. version of it known to people, and it's really -- unless there is both national and international law stopping this, it's just going to get worse and worse, and the diminished experience might be one in which where everything you've ever done that has left an imprint, and this is not just Internet, sensors are coming to everyday life.
TUFEKCIYou know, we have garbage cans with sensors built into them. Everything is collecting data on you. And users and citizens everywhere have to say that this data that's being collected on us is free for all like this. I mean, 1984 everybody cites that it was too early, you know, we didn't have the technology then. We have that and a lot more now. It just has to be some different way of deal with all this massive data.
NNAMDIOn to John in Atlanta, Ga. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi Kojo and guests. Thanks for taking my call.
JOHNI have a lot of foreign contacts, and I'd like to know as a United States citizen, what are the surveillance implications when I communicate with people in other countries, and does it matter if I'm located in the U.S. or outside?
NNAMDIFascinating question. I'll start with you, Tim Maurer.
MAURERSo this is a fascinating question, and anyone who is in the United States enjoys different protections than people outside the United States. There are stricter standards that apply for people within the United States. However, if you do communicate with someone who is abroad, the person abroad might be considered a target of surveillance, and by the virtue of communicating with that person, you yourself might not be the target of surveillance but your communication might be monitored as part of the communication with the person abroad who's the target.
MAURERSo it's the perfect example where the Internet as a transnational infrastructure and as a technology defies the laws that have been set up in the last century and before that was based on this notion of you have domestic and foreign spaces, and you have laws governing the domestic space and then you have everything taking place outside in the foreign -- in foreign affairs, and the question is how do you reconcile the two. And I think the disclosures open the eyes of many people what has changed and the comment that Zeynep made in terms of technology having changed and raising some very new fundamental questions of how we structure our society in this new technological reality.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Craig, some of the leaked NSA documents reveal a program to crack a service called Tor that basically helps users be anonymous online. Yet as the Washington Post points out, the State Department is actually helping fund that service since it helps activists and journalists worldwide avoid state surveillance. So what really is the U.S.'s vision abroad? What ideals are we trying to promote here?
TIMBERGI mean the irony is even more ripe than that. The U.S. Navy developed Tor, and it's used by the FBI in certain kinds of investigations. It's used by law enforcement all over the world I think because, you know, for example if they're trying to monitor a network of child pornographers, you don't want their servers to pop up with, you know, so and so FBI.gov or they'll know they're being surveilled.
TIMBERGSo the whole nature of anonymity online is a really complex and hotly contested question, right? I mean, we all want privacy for ourselves and for people we're communicating with, but do you want, you know, do you want child pornographers to have perfect privacy as they operate? It's a really tough question, and I know a lot of civil libertarians feel strongly that, you know, there is no such thing as bad privacy online because if everyone doesn't have privacy, then nobody has privacy, and that's a very compelling argument.
TIMBERGBut it's also true that Tor allows some awfully bad things to happen that might not happen otherwise including this program Silk Road that was selling drugs and guns and, you know, child pornography online, and, you know, I don't know, it's a very tough stuff, and it's truly a two-edge sword I think.
NNAMDIHere's Jay in Wheaton, Md. Jay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAYHey, thank you, Kojo. My question was about the -- because businesses use the information from the Internet to target certain people, and from knowing people's websites and the different places that they go, you can actually form a psychological profile on a person. So if we had an international governance over the Internet, how would be they able to control the information? I mean, would they be able to hold the servers at a certain site? How would be they able to do that, because the information is the power?
NNAMDITim Maurer, how far down that road have we traveled? Could be possibly know yet how it's likely to be governed internationally?
MAURERIf I can ask a question myself, the question I think is what do we mean by governance? So if we talk about the technology itself, then this goes to the question in terms the data storage and how is traffic being routed, but in many ways when we talk about governance we're actually talking about policies and what kind of laws are in place in the countries to protect privacy. So just to point to that conundrum that it's really hard to actually define what governance includes when we talk about the Internet.
MAURERBecause it is not a space that just exists in and of itself, but is actually something that can be actively changed by us and, therefore, you have different layers of and points of intervention. And I think right now there's a lack of coherence of how you actually approach the Internet from a policy perspective, and you eluded to Tor earlier, and at the same time the State Department's Internet freedoms agenda, and there seems to be a lack of coherence in the existing policy framework in terms of the lining, the work the various government agencies, and if the political goal is to secure fundamental freedoms, privacy and the free flow of information online, so as offline for people in the U.S. and abroad, then all policies must flow from that including those guiding the NSA.
NNAMDIZeynep, at this point the White House seems to have done little to ease diplomatic tensions over NSA revelations. What step could the U.S. take to regain the world's trust?
TUFEKCIWell, there are steps that we could take, both at the policy level and at the technological level. At the policy level, obviously, just changing our policy, that's the benefit of, you know, citizens here as well as people abroad would be the first good step. And I do want to add that it's not enough that if you're communicating with a target you could be communicating with a person who's communicating with a target, so the dragnet could be pretty wide.
TUFEKCISo the citizen, non-citizen, U.S., non-U.S. divide is breaking down. The Internet is global, so we have to have policies that affect everyone. It also could do the technological changes that the companies could step up and use encryption better, more broadly, and I think very important, U.S. could publicly address some of these concerns along with the changes in these policies. You know, we could say, you know what, this wasn't the right way to go about it and here's what we will do. It will take a lot of time to try to gain back that trust, and it would have to be accompanied by, you know, as I said, technological solutions that encryption as well you, but those are steps -- we're not even seeing those steps at the moment.
NNAMDICraig Timberg, much of the debate over who controls the Web is happening among world leaders. What power do users really have on issues of Internet governance? Slim and none.
TIMBERGYeah. I think that's right. I think that, you know, the conversation now is happening at a very high level and, you know, it's not like the world has a tremendously good track record of hundred and however many world government's getting together and doing some all that productive. I do think there are a lot of things that users can do to protect themselves better as we've heard on this show. Knowing how to use encryption, using, you know, encrypted websites when their available.
TIMBERGThe Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great little tool that allows you to switch on encryption on any website where it's available and that, you know, it helps. The more you use those kinds of tools, unless you're an actual target of the NSA, unless you're like communicating with, you know, Osama bin Laden's lieutenant, you know, really, the NSA is not that interested in you. And so, your bigger problem is, you know, hackers are other sort of lower level surveillance technology. So, you know, there are things you should -- we all should do.
TIMBERGYou can use VPNs to mask where you are. So a certain amount of learning about this, and a certain amount of sophistication on the personal level would lead to people feeling like their privacy is protected more.
NNAMDIHere's Belle in Silver Spring, Md. Belle, your turn.
BELLEHello, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to make a comment about the debate in its entirety and all the media attention that we're having about surveillance and privacy issues. And it just occurs to me as I think about it myself and listen to all the discussion that it tends to be very one sided. The very nature of the idea of the surveillance that we can only hear from all the people who are unhappy about the possibility of information being collected, but the government does not have the ability really to give very specific responses, here's why, here's how we're doing it, this is the purpose, and it has to do with protecting the country or whatever other motivations there are.
NNAMDIWell, that's certainly what -- that's certainly what representatives of the government have been saying in hearings on Capitol Hill.
BELLEBut I feel like in the debate on -- out in the public, there isn't really an ability to answer specifically enough to have a real two-sided debate. It seems to me that most of the conversation is about feelings about, you know , not wanting privacy to be breeched but that I myself feel like I don't understand exactly why or what was, you know, what would be the purpose of one kind of collection of another. But I also feel like I won't get an answer to that question and can't because by sharing the information it would undermine the very purpose of the action.
NNAMDIWell, you seem to be suggesting -- and we're just about out of time, that basically there's nothing we can do at this point but throw our hands up in the air because there are, I guess, unknowable unknowables in this situation. But I'm afraid that is all the time we have. Thank you very much for your call. Craig Timberg, thank you for joining us.
TIMBERGIt's was my pleasure.
NNAMDICraig Timberg is national technology reporter for the Washington Post. Zeynep Tufekci, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIZeynep is a fellow at Princeton's Institute for Technology Information Policy, faculty associate at Harvard's Berkman Center, and a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Tim Maurer, thank you for joining us from Bali.
MAURERThanks for having me on the show.
NNAMDITim Maurer is a senior policy analyst at the Open Technology Institute, a program of the New America Foundation. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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