Home court advantage

by John Quiggin on July 27, 2013

A while back I read a fairly standard presentation of the argument that the International Telecommunications Union should be kept away from control over the setting of Internet standards. The piece, on Ars Technica was written by Timothy B. Lee, who also writes for Cato Unbound[1]. Lee concludes:

The US hopes to preserve the “home court advantage” provided by the existing, open Internet governance institutions by preventing the emergence of the ITU as a rival standards-setting institution. Advocates of a free and open Internet and opponents of authoritarianism should hope that they succeed.

Now that we have a clearer idea of what the “home court advantage” actually entails[^2] it does not seem quite so appealing. The US government is at least as great a threat to a free and open Internet as any of those it routinely castigates in its Human Rights reports.

But if governments are determined to snoop as much as they can get away with, and claim unlimited powers to deal with their opponents as they see fit, is there any institutional structure that will make it harder, rather than easier for them to do so? I don’t know, but leaving control in the hands of the US state does not seem like an appealing solution.

[^1]: This isn’t meant as a “gotcha”. Cato has been good on issues like FISA and PRISM, and I only found Lee’s affiliation after the post was nearly done.
[^2]: The NSA uses “home field advantage”, which is less sport-specific

{ 120 comments }

1

Andrew F. 07.27.13 at 1:57 pm

The US government is at least as great a threat to a free and open Internet as any of those it routinely castigates in its Human Rights reports.

Yes, the United States and the People’s Republic of China clearly pose the same magnitude of threat to a free and open internet. I’d be amazed if this comment makes it beyond the Great Wall that the US has built. And within the US it’s incredibly difficult to speak openly of any government scandals (even fictional ones) that could cause popular unrest, as government censors are able to quickly find and delete such references. Of course, dissidents are treated identically within the US and the PRC as well – that’s why so many people in the US use anonymizing tools like Tor (developed, at a very early stage and for a different purpose, by the US Government) in the US and the PRC. It’s very dangerous to sign on to parties and causes in opposition to current government policy (that’s why fringe groups rarely gain media coverage or political influence in the United States). Personally, I feel much more secure when I’m microblogging in China from a laptop running LPS Linux, with a VM running a BSD variant, a prepaid SIM card, and three proxy levels, about Tian– I mean, two raised to the sixth power.

More seriously, recently I was rereading Arthur Danto’s essay on “Dangerous Art”, which serves as a reminder of how cheap and plentiful ideas and arguments are in the West, and how fraught with power they can seem to be in more oppressive regimes. Oppressive regimes have much more perceived interest in regulating speech than Western countries do.

Anyway, moving away from the current process towards something like the ITU, i.e. taking more influence away from nonprofit organizations and giving more influence to governments that have an open and vehement pursuit of the regulation of political content on the internet, strikes me as a bad direction to go, regardless of your views of the current state of affairs.

Western democracies all have fairly solid adherence to rule of law. Changing the law of those countries, if one thinks they’re being too intrusive, is probably the quickest and most effective solution.

There are also technological solutions – free and legal in the West – which can be used if you’re concerned about private or government surveillance.

Both of these are preferable to allowing countries like the PRC any more influence over the structure of the internet than they already have.

2

Barry 07.27.13 at 1:58 pm

Welcome back, Andrew! I would say that we missed you…….

3

Marc 07.27.13 at 2:17 pm

Is there any particular evidence that we’d end up with fewer, rather than more, barriers to surveillance if we had a consortium of governments in charge of Internet standards?

4

Cranky Observer 07.27.13 at 2:31 pm

= = = Andrew F. @ 1:57 pm
[…]
Yes, the United States and the People’s Republic of China clearly pose the same magnitude of threat to a free and open internet. I’d be amazed if this comment makes it beyond the Great Wall that the US has built. And within the US it’s incredibly difficult to speak openly of any government scandals (even fictional ones) that could cause popular unrest, as government censors are able to quickly find and delete such references. […] = = =

Was the Department of Homeland Security involved in coordinating the simultaneous attack on the various Occupy encampments around the United States (protected activity under 1st Amendment right to assemble and petition), or was it not? What was the Federal Government’s involvement in the obviously coordinated effort to delegitimize Occupy prior to that attack? Whose interests were threatened and who got protected? I’m sure that information is widely and openly available from various US organs of state security; I’m just remiss in not being able to find it.

Cranky

5

Anarcissie 07.27.13 at 2:31 pm

The comments at Ars Technica cover the ground pretty well. Eight months ago they did not yet have Snowden, but some of the commenters seem to have known the facts. The one big thing that had not happened was the exhibition of cool arrogance with which Evo Morales’s plane was grounded until it had been looked over.

6

Layman 07.27.13 at 2:55 pm

Andrew F @ 1

“Of course, dissidents are treated identically within the US and the PRC as well”

Yes, one country holds them incommunicado without access to courts, for years, while torturing them; and the other is China.

7

Salient 07.27.13 at 3:37 pm

Yes, the United States and the People’s Republic of China clearly pose the same magnitude of threat to a free and open internet.

You say this as if China is the larger threat to the entire Internet, on a worldwide scale. China certainly does have much stronger and more severe internal censorship than the U.S. does.

8

Salient 07.27.13 at 3:51 pm

Just like, the U.S. government does subject a much much smaller percentage of the world population to the brutality of its treatment of dissidents. But that makes its treatment of those few all the more baffling. If you’re going to suppress, it makes sense to do so thoroughly. The U.S. hasn’t had a reason to engage in mass suppression lately, except imprisoning lots of people for drug crimes.

But whatever. To belabor the point by saying it for the 354,007th time: By treating anyone like that at all, we’re giving governments across the world an example to point to as justification for their own brutality. If someone points to us and says, “the U.S. does it too!” it doesn’t really help to say “but not to as many people!” in response. We are enabling brutality on a global scale by employing small-scale brutality.

(To pre-empt some possible complaints about that statement, “enable” does not mean “make X’s success possible where it was otherwise impossible” — it means “contribute something meaningful to the success of X.” Or at least that’s all I mean by it in that sentence. The word has terrible etymology.)

9

Bruce Wilder 07.27.13 at 4:45 pm

Marc @ 3: Is there any particular evidence that we’d end up with fewer, rather than more, barriers to surveillance if we had a consortium of governments in charge of Internet standards?

Consortium of “governments” or giant business corporations?

Whose surveillance of whom are we enabling and protecting?

10

Stephen 07.27.13 at 7:07 pm

Layman @6

I suppose the “US dissidents” you mean are the prisoners in Guantanamo. As far as I can make out, they are neither US nor dissidents. (Which is not to say they should all be there.) Are there any other US dissidents, imprisoned and tortured, you had in mind?

And do you really mean to imply that genuine Chinese dissidents in China are not treated in a way that would be thought intolerable in the US?

Sideslip: I’m sure that the irony of the name of the Guantanamo prison, opposed to the song La Guantanamera, has been pointed out many times before. Is it in fact widely recognised?

11

don 07.27.13 at 7:27 pm

Stephen: Bradley Manning. And the “Communication Management Units” within the US ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-mcgowan/communication-management-units_b_2944580.html )

12

dsfan 07.27.13 at 7:38 pm

I’m a little puzzled by the argument here (I don’t mean that to be rhetorical, I simply don’t understand and am probably missing something). The domestic NSA programs revealed by Snowden, as I understand it, have primarily involved obtaining materials from internet and telecommunications companies (e.g. PRISM, call records). I don’t see how transferring control over technical internet standards would inhibit these activities at all–the “home-field advantage” is the presence of companies and physical infrastructure within the United States, which are likely impacted far more by policies beyond what Lee is discussing.

13

mud man 07.27.13 at 7:43 pm

Changing the law of those countries, if one thinks they’re being too intrusive, is probably the quickest and most effective solution.

Why didn’t I think of that??? I’m gonna call my Congressperson right away!!

14

mpowell 07.27.13 at 7:49 pm


The US government is at least as great a threat to a free and open Internet as any of those it routinely castigates in its Human Rights reports.

This is just a foolish statement to make. It opens the door to criticisms like Andrew’s which are 100% correct when applied to a comment like this. And that just distracts from the relevant debate. It’s not as though the proposal is to turn everything internet related over to the PRC. At the same time, this article is talking about standards. Here’s a hint: they aren’t currently being directly set by the US gov. If you want to make the argument that they have been co-opted by US corporations or the US gov in a negative way, make the argument. The “home court advantage” quote from the article does not make it for you.

15

Martin Bento 07.27.13 at 7:58 pm

There is an opportunity here for a small democratic non-militaristic nation with no deep ties to the US, China,Russia, or the EU to generate a great sucking sound that brings much of the cloud industry out of silicon valley. Enshrine into law serious privacy protections without the usual blanket national security escape clauses (the EU has much stronger consumer privacy standards, but I’m not sure how much protection you have against the government. The stunning violation of the international order with Morales shows the US can still say jump to the EU, even France, when it comes to security issues.). Yes, privacy can be violated for cause, but no blanket sweeps and a real judicial process to determine cause.

One or a coalition of the leftist governments of South America would seem the likely choice.

They would have to mean it though. Strong privacy is not necessarily part of traditional leftist ideology and I am not sure how traditional the South American Left is in this respect (or others). It would require a commitment to privacy not contingent on whose interest privacy serves, as the latter will vary and is a complex question, but the commitment will have to be unequivocal to be credible.

16

Stephen 07.27.13 at 8:14 pm

Martin Bento @13
“Strong privacy is not necessarily part of traditional leftist ideology.”

Is there a prize for CT Massive Understatement of the Year? If so I nominate you for it.

17

Layman 07.27.13 at 8:37 pm

Stephen @ 10

“I suppose the “US dissidents” you mean are the prisoners in Guantanamo. As far as I can make out, they are neither US nor dissidents. (Which is not to say they should all be there.) Are there any other US dissidents, imprisoned and tortured, you had in mind?”

Bradley Manning was who I had in mind. Remember him?

“And do you really mean to imply that genuine Chinese dissidents in China are not treated in a way that would be thought intolerable in the US?”

No, not at all. I mean to make 2 points: First, what’s the virtue in abusing dissidents less frequently than does another? Doesn’t that amount to defining virtue as a lower sin count?

Second, how does a discussion about the treatment of dissidents serve as a counter to the contention that ‘the US government is at least as great a threat to a free and open Internet as any of those it routinely castigates in its Human Rights reports’?

Andrew’s objection is silly – the US has manifestly greater capacity to trample a free and open Internet than does the PRC, and it has demonstrated its willingness to use that capacity for reasons little better than petty.

18

Consumatopia 07.27.13 at 8:46 pm

I think along the same lines as Martin Bento here. I won’t make any predictions about which country would take the lead, but some kind of competition among nations as to which place is the most private and secure to protect cloud data seems inevitable (even if individuals don’t care about their own privacy, corporations surely do). Of course, different people storing different kinds of data might have reason to trust different countries. If you’re a Chinese dissident, you might be better off trusting American companies. Sure, the NSA can spy on you, but the NSA isn’t who you’re hiding from. OTOH, if you’re leaking information about the NSA, you might find it easier to trust Hong Kong or Russia than the EU.

As far as international rules go, what is important is not whether the rules body respects privacy, but that users have access to some country that does respect their privacy. My suspicion is that a Western organization body would have more interest in promoting international access and competition, while some ITU members might be more interested in erecting barriers and protectionism.

19

Mao Cheng Ji 07.27.13 at 9:33 pm

According to the wikipedia article on the “2011 crackdown on dissidents in the PRC”, “…human rights groups have claimed that more than 54 people have been arrested by authorities, some of whom have been charged with crimes”. That seems like a relatively small number. Another entry informs that “It is difficult to estimate the number of victims of McCarthyism. The number imprisoned is in the hundreds, and some ten or twelve thousand lost their jobs.” Is today’s China more liberal that the US in the 50s, not to mention the 60s-70s, with the 68 convention, Kent state, cointelpro, etc?

20

anon 07.27.13 at 9:43 pm

My head is exploding.

Crooked Timber is harshly criticizing the most left-wing administration in US history.

The reason is, of course, it isn’t far left wing enough! If it were only being run by a product of America’s most left extremist elite institutions like Columbia and the University of Chicago.

…. uh … wait a minute …. ?

21

Layman 07.27.13 at 9:54 pm

Anon @ 18

“the most left-wing administration in US history.”

That bit of hyperbole is a favorite talking point of the American right, but no one with even a dim knowledge of US history takes it seriously.

22

John Quiggin 07.27.13 at 10:58 pm

The fact that China imprisons more dissidents than does the US has almost no relevance to the question of which country represents a greater threat to a free and open Internet. Mugabe and Assad are far worse than the CCP, but obviously their capacity to threaten Internet freedom, outside their own borders, is zero.

Looking at the record, the US is well ahead of China in terms of aggressive cyberwarfare (Stuxnet) and comprehensive surveillance (PRISM etc). And, while persecution of dissidents is rare in general, it’s precisely in response to anyone who challenges or releases info about US control of the Internet (Wikileaks, Snowden, even General Cartwright) that the US security state has shown itself to be both vindictive and lawless.

23

Jake 07.28.13 at 12:07 am

The US is ahead of China in Internet surveillance and questionable means of controlling Internet traffic? In the part of the Internet that China has control over people need to develop code words for politically embarrassing events because if they don’t then their emails or social media posts will disappear, their search queries will return no results, and their Internet connection will become unreliable for a few hours.

They only reason they might be further behind the US is that they have less traffic to get their hands on.

24

Consumatopia 07.28.13 at 1:16 am

The fact that China imprisons more dissidents than does the US has almost no relevance to the question of which country represents a greater threat to a free and open Internet.

I agree, but I’m not entirely sure Stuxnet and PRISM are relevant to the question of whether ICANN or ITU would be better for a free and open internet. More specifically, I don’t see how ITU having more power would make either American cyberwarfare or American surveillance of American companies harder. My failure to see that could very well be due to ignorance on my part, but what, specifically, are you hoping ITU would do?

25

Marc 07.28.13 at 1:38 am

It really does seem as if “US bad” is the operative logic, as opposed to “here is a specific alternative that would make surveillance less pervasive”.

26

John Quiggin 07.28.13 at 2:07 am

@Consumatopia As Marc says, I don’t have an answer, just a question – given that reliance on the US as a benevolent overseer of the Internet is obviously foolish, what can we do.

The best option raised in comments seems to be that some state may be willing to act as a safe haven and resist intrusion from elsewhere.

Another possibility is that supporting the ITU will threaten the US companies that have been complicit in the surveillance process, and thereby put more pressure on them to resist the demands of the security state.

27

Chaz 07.28.13 at 2:46 am

Jake,

China uses their system more overtly and seemingly on a greater scale* than the US, but that does not mean they have greater technical abilities.

*Except not really. NSA apparently processes every email and phone call in or connected through the USA, and maybe web site visits too (I forget?).

28

Consumatopia 07.28.13 at 3:01 am

Another possibility is that supporting the ITU will threaten the US companies that have been complicit in the surveillance process, and thereby put more pressure on them to resist the demands of the security state.

Maybe, but it’s not hard to imagine that pressure going in the opposite direction, e.g. Google fears ITU regulation or disruption, responds by asking Russian and Chinese governments how they could better cooperate. Cooperation with security states is not zero-sum, there are no doubt many outcomes that would please the NSA, Russia, and China but displease you and I.

I know this sounds terribly neoliberal, but given that we seem to share the hope that safe havens providing Internet services internationally could prove our salvation, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if corporations and organizations interested in exporting services across borders have a somewhat louder voice in determining standards. Maybe ICANN isn’t how I would ideally prefer Internet governance to work (not that I’d be remotely qualified to design any sort of alternative!) but I suspect that most national governments, including the US, aren’t as enthusiastic about Internet freedom as I am, and therefore any sort of major institutional changes pushed by national governments would probably be for the worse.

29

William Timberman 07.28.13 at 3:25 am

It always seemed inevitable to me that the Internet would be turned into television. I thought it much less likely that it would also be turned into the Ministry of Truth, if only because the real powers that be are more interested in profiting from controlled consumption than in from controlled thought. What actually happened — the Internet as universal targeting device — is much more interesting, not only because it turns anonymity into the luxury good most sought after by the powerful, who mistakenly believe that they can afford it, but also because those doing the targeting, and those being targeted, can be switched around without warning. It’s almost as capricious a force as Greek divinities were once said to be….

30

Happy Heyoka 07.28.13 at 5:21 am

John Quiggin :

Another possibility is that supporting the ITU will threaten the US companies that have been complicit in the surveillance process, and thereby put more pressure on them to resist the demands of the security state.

There are at least two big European companies I could name (members of the ITU) known to have supplied surveillance equipment to countries with less than democratic ideals.

For all the good things I’m sure it has achieved, it pays not to forget that the ITU represents a 100 year old cartel of telecommunication companies. I am confident that a brief analysis of standards endorsed vs. intellectual property held by the members would be illuminating. I’m not a “black helicopter” anti-UN type but it would be foolish to assume consistently angelic motives.

Given the very definition of “internet” is a network of networks, perhaps the best course is to agitate to avoid any kind of international oversight at all?
Then operate on the basis that all interconnections are suspect (eg: Operation Ivy Bells is a 40 year old example).

Keep fighting the good fight wherever you happen to live, get your ducks in a row regarding encryption and feel sad for the poor buggers who aren’t allowed to use it.

31

Bruce Wilder 07.28.13 at 6:01 am

Yes, because neoliberal anarchy has worked out so well, by all means let’s restrict our imaginations to that and corporate oligarchy — what could go wrong?

32

Collin Street 07.28.13 at 8:05 am

On a semi-related note… it recently struck me that there are certain currently-vested interests who benefit from the IPv4 address shortage[1], and these interests might have had some influence in the delayed rollout of IPv6.

[1] Or rather the centralisation that the workarounds for the IPv4 address shortage drive: Network Address Translation and dynamic IP addressing divide the internet into two parts, “computers that any computer can reliably connect to” and “computers that cannot reliably be connected to”. With, of course, home users being in the latter part. For home users to communicate with each other, they need to connect to publically-accessable computers as intermediaries — such as for example facebook.com or crookedtimber.org or nyaatorrents, say — and this centralisation offers Certain Opportunities.

33

Mao Cheng Ji 07.28.13 at 8:52 am

@32. Oh man. Define a DMZ host and disable the firewall, and you’re publicly-accessible. If that’s what you want.

34

hix 07.28.13 at 12:31 pm

Some countries will keep surveiling their people at home no matter what is done on an international level. Concerning international surveilance, the US is by far the worst offender and any structure that gives the US more power, is sure to make things worse in that regard. Another point why any measure that curbs us power should be cheared is the massive imbalance. There is no decent search engine aviable in most nations that is not US controled. There is no alternative to Facebook, since one has to use the social network everyone else is using.

35

Marc 07.28.13 at 1:01 pm

@34: One of the outcomes of the Snowden fallout is that the UK is a big player, with far fewer safeguards than the US. France also has a major effort. And I think people here are massively understating the level of what China is doing in terms of surveillance of their own people and in aggressive hacking of foreign nationals and companies. I think that focusing on the US alone in this context is missing the broader nature of what’s happening – and any solutions will require broad coalitions and a recognition that it’s much more than one government that is involved.

I’m also appalled to see the massive human rights violations in China being minimized in this thread. It really does play to the worst stereotypes of the far left, and bad behavior by the US government does not excuse the treatment of the people of China by their own government.

36

Mao Cheng Ji 07.28.13 at 1:05 pm

Isn’t it good though to have a common search engine and social network? Perhaps what needs to happen is google and facebook to become supranational.

37

Stephen 07.28.13 at 1:22 pm

Layman@17

Sorry, I didn’t realise that when you wrote, of US dissidents, that the US “holds them incommunicado without access to courts, for years, while torturing them” you meant Bradley Manning.

I think I can be forgiven for my mistake. As far as I know, Manning is only case and you seemed to be writing about several. He undoubtedly disgrees with US Government policy, but was not arrested for being a dissident: rather for actions which, if he had undertaken them in any other country, even highly liberal Sweden or Canada, against the government of that country would equally have caused his arrest. He has not been held incommunicado, without access to courts, for years. And I don’t think he’s been tortured – kept in harsh conditions for a while, yes, and he should not have been.

Apart from those matters, your description was 100% accurate.

38

Ronan(rf) 07.28.13 at 1:24 pm

The reason the US is being singled out is because the US is still the dominant global power and so tends to lead the way in trying to shape global politics, and because we’re all so saturated in UScentric political coverage that it’s difficult to escape
I wouldn’t imagine many people are looking to minimise human rights abuses in China but to offer context that domestically historically (and still to some extent), and certainly internationally, liberal democracies have also shown themselves more than capable of committing human rights abuses. If we want to offer nuance and context to those violations of human rights, then you have to do the same in other countries.
Excusing human rights violations in non Western countries hasn’t really been a leftist position in a generation

39

Ronan(rf) 07.28.13 at 1:42 pm

And it’s a reactionary position to undermine human/civil rights violations at home by pointing out something worse internationally (Like demanding feminists can’t concentrate on domestic issues until they’ve saved the world)

40

Stephen 07.28.13 at 1:51 pm

I meant “Manning is only one case”, of course.

Apart from that, I think there may be some confusion. Andrew F is right in arguing that, within the limited area of its power, the Chinese government is far more malevolently restrictive of internet (and other) freedoms than the US government is within the area of its power. Others are equally right in arguing that the US government has far more influence on the internet as a whole than does the Chinese: which is not in contradiction to Andrew. Some seem to be arguing that giving the Chinese more say via the ITU would be an improvement, though it is not clear how. It seems to be taken for granted that the US government’s behaviour is bad, and cannot be improved.

Clarification would be welcome.

41

Anarcissie 07.28.13 at 3:32 pm

China is still considered ‘leftist’?

42

Sebastian H 07.28.13 at 3:58 pm

There seem to be two threads that aren’t being well distinguished. The US is the worst actor, because it has the most power in this sphere. The other major countries we could talk about, say China, Russia, the UK, France, etc, appear to be very bad actors in this sphere with however much power they get. Both threads are true so far as I can tell. The annoying part for people who would like the Internet to be relatively free is that even the least bad protector of that seems to suck, and it seems VERY likely that adding worse actors into the mix isn’t going to help.

Also there seems to be an unhelpful mixing of privacy questions with access questions. They can’t be treated interchangeably. Since the Snowden revelations, it seems that the US engages in lots of privacy violations that I would want to curb. It also seems that much of the EU, despite their stronger consumer privacy laws, engage in essentially as much or more intrusive behavior for ‘security reasons’. Even further down that path are states like China: they both intrude on privacy and sharply restrict access on a routine level, something the US very rarely does (the only thing that comes to mind is the totally unsuccessful attempts to suppress access to the wiki leaks diplomatic cables. )

The data haven concept seems great if you focus only on privacy but loses most of its appeal if restrictions on access become routine.

It is difficult to see how expanding power over the internet to more repressive countries is likely to lead to a more liberal international set of Internet policies. It looks like the least bad option may be to try to convince the US to be better.

Which is admittedly unsatisfying.

43

Bruce Wilder 07.28.13 at 4:49 pm

Marc @ 25: “It really does seem as if “US bad” is the operative logic, as opposed to “here is a specific alternative . . .” ”

Sebastian H @ 42: “There seem to be two threads that aren’t being well distinguished. . . .”

For better or worse, the world has often tried to use U.S. hegemony as a leverage point for establishing and running international institutions. Since U.S. intervention ended the First World War — the hell where the Concert of Europe died — and the U.S. arrived at the forefront of the Second Industrial Revolution in its aftermath, U.S. hegemony has been a regularly chosen alternative organizing principle. The reputation of U.S. political and economic institutions for integrity, whether deserved or not, in any given instance or moment, was an additional selling point.

(There have been other models. The Swiss have their neutrality, the French their rationalism and the Germans, their engineering, and, of course, the British, English, London banks, etc.)

One doesn’t have to be particularly hostile to the U.S. to recognize that its hegemony is eroding rapidly, and the integrity of many of its institutions have been lost to a tsunami of neoliberal corruption. (The Attorney General of the U.S. is writing to a KGB alum, to assure him mildly, “Torture is unlawful in the United States.”)

The internet’s standards are a public good, and the provision of public goods in a world awash in neoliberal idiocy, is going to be hard to even think about, seriously. The precedent of the Tower of Babel does not suggest that anarchy will be our friend, or that collective action in this arena will end well, should the 250 year history of Anglo-American global hegemony draw to a sudden close.

I’d like to think that the world is capable of rising to the occasion. The internet needs a revised architecture, one that provides a better foundation for security and privacy. So, it isn’t just a matter of finding a trustworthy custodian; we need some innovative entrepreneurs and architects — a change agent — to drive things forward. Given that the world desperately needs to develop institutions to control energy use and the climate, this much smaller, but still challenging task, might be a useful precedent, if accomplished.

I think we are more likely to get the reactionary conservativism of technocratic Mandarins and/or that Tower of Babel, from which all will flee into localism when it fails to reach the heights.

Timberman identified the problem that will bring down our Tower of Babel: everyone and anyone can be targeted, by anyone or everyone. Our allotted 15 minutes of fame is reduced to secret milliseconds. Chaos at 11.

44

Ronan(rf) 07.28.13 at 4:51 pm

“Clarification would be welcome.”

This might be useful

http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/933/

45

hix 07.28.13 at 5:37 pm

The best solution to search and social network would indead be a global non profit financed through taxes that has a similar market share as google and facebook today, which is banned from collecting any data or show any ads. Short of that far off vision, id rather have anything different from the situation right now, including different for profit social networks in every nation that do not have connections which each other.

46

William Timberman 07.28.13 at 6:36 pm

In the wake of Corey Robin’s ingenious and provocative (in the good sense) linking of Edmund Burke with Sarah Palin, and Nietzsche with Hayek, I’ve been doing some re-reading. Most recently, it’s been Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. The rants against the unwashed I remembered very well, it seems, but not the justifications for them, in particular, his way of defining how to judge a person’s fitness to rule. If even Bruce Wilder is convinced of the necessity of authoritarian management at some point in our quest to make technology our benevolent servant again, maybe I need to review my (small r) republican catechism.

So here we see Burke, above a footnote quoting Ecclesiastes to make the point that people who work all day don’t have the leisure to become wise, warning against letting hairdressers and tallow chandlers set the tone of public affairs:

The occupation of a hair-dresser, or of a working tallow chandler, cannot be a matter of honor to any person… …Such descriptions of men ought not to suffer oppression from the state; but the state suffers oppression, if such as they, either individually or collectively are permitted to rule. In this you think you are combating prejudice, but you are at war with nature.

Then, however, he goes on to say:

You do not imagine, that I wish to confine power, authority, and distinction to blood, and names, and titles. No, sir. There is no qualification for government but virtue and wisdom, actual or presumptive. Wherever they are actually found, they have, in whatever state, condition, profession, or trade, the passport of Heaven to human place and honor.

So here we are, (small r) republicans all, 224+ years later, still seeking just answers to the same questions: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? and How do we recognize the mandate of heaven when we see it? Neither a true meritocracy, presuming such a thing could actually exist, nor a technocracy of the thoroughly initiated, seems likely answer either question any better than Burke did.

If we really want an answer, politics is the only arena in which we who haven’t been given engraved invitations to join our dysfunctional ruling class can afford to look. Virtue and wisdom, even an understanding of what was once meant by virtue and wisdom, is in short supply these days, but surely, surely we can do better than Eric Holder (or Keith Alexander, Rand Paul, or Anthony Weiner.) In time, I suppose we might, but as BW says often enough, time is not something we have a whole lot of these days, the heady rush of modernity having at last reached the edge of the cliff.

47

Watson Ladd 07.28.13 at 7:22 pm

Salient, who exactly are we treating like that? Snowden revealed operational details from which foreign intelligence agencies learned about a vulnerability, by posting a photograph of what that intelligence looked like. (It was from RF analysis of a laser printer) That’s far beyond revealing the FISA court order in terms of damage to national security. It’s the kind of information that the public doesn’t need to know to debate these programs, any more than you need to know the Teller-Ulam mechanism to debate nuclear weapons.

As for the home court advantage, the risk would be the ITU creating international cooperation on censorship, under the guise of harmonization of laws. This has already begun, with Spain supporting the removal of information about historical accidents from Google because persons might not want to camp at the campsite involved. Singaporean censorship involves civil actions against critics of the government, and frequently abuse of libel laws. Imagine if they establish that US papers need to heed these orders. Espionage would of course continue: why wouldn’t you tap information flowing through your country and to its corporations if it could help you with serious threats?

48

Stephen 07.28.13 at 7:39 pm

Ronan (rf) @41.

Very interesting, many thanks.

But not, as far as I can see, absolutely relevant to the problem under discussion: how do we best ensure the oversight of the internet, with neither intolerable oppression (the Chinese model as far as they can make it extend) or misuse by deeply undemocratic groups to destroy democracy (the CCP I shouldn’t wonder: Salafist/al-Qaeda/IRA). Not, of course, that some of these groups used electronic communications much once they realised how vulnerable they are to interception: couriers preferable, as your link says.

Collaboration between different intelligence agencies has been going on for centuries. One part of the problem in the article you linked to is that, even if agencies can trust their own governments not to act foolishly with the information they receive (a large if) they can rightly have less trust in other governments.

How all that really helps with the original problem is for you, I hope, to make clear.

49

Stephen 07.28.13 at 7:39 pm

Ronan (rf) @41.

Very interesting, many thanks.

But not, as far as I can see, absolutely relevant to the problem under discussion: how do we best ensure the oversight of the internet, with neither intolerable oppression (the Chinese model as far as they can make it extend) or misuse by deeply undemocratic groups to destroy democracy (the CCP I shouldn’t wonder: Salafist/al-Qaeda/IRA). Not, of course, that some of these groups used electronic communications much once they realised how vulnerable they are to interception: couriers preferable, as your link says.

Collaboration between different intelligence agencies has been going on for centuries. One part of the problem in the article you linked to is that, even if agencies can trust their own governments not to act foolishly with the information they receive (a large if) they can rightly have less trust in other governments.

How all that really helps with the original problem is for you, I hope, to make clear.

50

Stephen 07.28.13 at 7:40 pm

Sorry: ancient computer misbehaving. Please delete all repetitions.

51

Mao Cheng Ji 07.28.13 at 7:45 pm

“Espionage would of course continue: why wouldn’t you tap information flowing through your country and to its corporations”

Google, for example, has data centers all over the world, but it is a US company. If it was an ‘international utility’ sort of thing, the US would’ve only been able to tap information flowing through the wires and data centers on its territory (and that wouldn’t be easy, without backdoor access to encryption), which seems like more of an internal matter.

52

Michael Cain 07.28.13 at 7:47 pm

I’m old enough, and geeky enough, that my immediate response is somewhat different. The ITU (well, its predecessor the CCITT) had a set of specs for a data networks and services — that, as it turned out, barely dented the steamroller of Ethernet and TCP/IP. At the same time that everyone else in the world was figuring out that packets were the wave of the future, the CCITT dropped datagrams from their standard entirely. I have to question whether these guys are smart enough to be put in charge of a critical piece of infrastructure.

53

Ronan(rf) 07.28.13 at 7:50 pm

I don’t have anything close to an answer, unfortunately.
However my own preference would be that at some stage we’d, collectively, stop inflating nuisances to the level of existential threats, and get a grip
Which could be done with charts

http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/20th-century-death/

54

Cranky Observer 07.28.13 at 7:57 pm

= = = Salient, who exactly are we treating like that? Snowden revealed operational details from which foreign intelligence agencies learned about a vulnerability, by posting a photograph of what that intelligence looked like. (It was from RF analysis of a laser printer) That’s far beyond revealing the FISA court order in terms of damage to national security. = = =

RF snooping on devices with microprocessors was discussed in the open technical community in the 1970s, demonstrated in the 1980s, and is a central plot device in Neal Stephenson’s 1999 worldwide bestselling novel Cryptonomicon. Heck, every color laser printer ever sold prints an identifying serial number on every page (oops – did I just reveal a state secret)? Again, who are these bad guys we are “securing” ourselves from who are so fiendishly clever that they can build some hideous weapon and deploy it across continents in total secrecy but are so stupid they don’t read back issues of Byte Magazine from 1988?

Cranky

55

Ronan(rf) 07.28.13 at 8:00 pm

Which isn’t really an answer Stephen, I honestly dont know. How to police the internet is a technical question I don’t really have any ability to answer. Im sure some set of imperfect standards will evolve over time as a result of bargains struck between various actors
The more specific one I got sidetracked on, how to deal with national security threats, I, personally, believe could be resolved with a more realistic analysis of the threats we face

56

Jake 07.28.13 at 8:31 pm

Come on, Cranky. Security is a game of percentages, not absolutes. Surveillance techniques can be countered with time, effort, and money; counter-surveillance techniques likewise. The universe of possible surveillance techniques is so broad that if you defend against all of them you’ll never get anything done; knowing which techniques are actually widely so that you can work around them is incredibly helpful.

I also never thought I’d hear people say that in order to improve privacy we should give Google more power and autonomy; at least not people who don’t work at Google. Strange times.

57

Ronan(rf) 07.28.13 at 8:37 pm

“Salient, who exactly are we treating like that? Snowden revealed operational details from which foreign intelligence agencies..”

It’s not really operational intelligence in a conventional sense, though I guess an argument could reasonably be made that certain aspects of the leak did reveal operational ‘details’ (Afaik Manning didn’t though)
But in general, and I would imagine in ‘spirit’, it was just revealing known secrets, so the response seems heavy handed
The Obama admin doesnt appear to be particularly smart in this area though, so I’m not exactly sure what they think these shows of ‘strength’ accomplish (surely no real electoral pay off, perhaps a political one, doesnt seem to be much of a disincentive to would be leakers, I would assume it’s something ‘cultural’/ideological in the US national security community)
But to the first part of your question, it wouldnt be difficult to take a guess as to what communities might be targetted in a ‘war on Islamic terrorism’
Sorry for the diversion, Ill leave it there

58

Layman 07.28.13 at 9:21 pm

Marc @ 35

“I’m also appalled to see the massive human rights violations in China being minimized in this thread.”

You should give some examples of what’s appalling you. I don’t think I’ve read anything here intended to minimize the massive human rights violations in China. That whole subject is a distraction from the topic introduced by Andrew F. It is possible to believe both that China is an atrocious state with an outrageous human rights record, and that ‘the US government is at least as great a threat to a free and open Internet as any of those it routinely castigates in its Human Rights reports.’ Can’t they both be true, and does recognition of the latter necessarily minimize the former? I don’t think so.

59

Collin Street 07.28.13 at 9:39 pm

But in general, and I would imagine in ‘spirit’, it was just revealing known secrets, so the response seems heavy handed

But this is always one of the defences offered for secrecy: “[despite our best efforts] previous leaks revealed most of this, so what do you need [i]this[/i] leak for? You knew it all anyway”.

60

Layman 07.28.13 at 9:48 pm

Stephen @ 37

Countries always jail their dissidents for some crime other than dissidence. I’m not sure it’s more convincing when we do it than when China or Syria does it. Manning was held in pre-trial confinement for 3 years – the longest such period, I think, in the history of US courts-martial. And his (I believe) 11 months in effective solitary confinement, forced nudity & humiliation are in fact torture under International law.

For my part, I’m sure Manning now wishes he were Scooter Libby, or Dick Cheney, or some other person similarly ‘guilty’ of revealing classified information to the media, thereby aiding the enemy; but clever enough to be powerful and therefore not sitting naked in an 8×10 cell.

61

hix 07.28.13 at 9:48 pm

Giving some voice even to worse non US actors can still improve things. Not just compared to keeping more power in the US, also compared to say giving all power to Norway. Evil oppressive dictatorships have at least some feedback mechanism that makes them reflect their peoples concerns in international negotiations.

62

Layman 07.28.13 at 9:54 pm

Stephen @ 40

“Some seem to be arguing that giving the Chinese more say via the ITU would be an improvement, though it is not clear how. It seems to be taken for granted that the US government’s behaviour is bad, and cannot be improved.”

Who are these ‘some’, who ‘seem’ to be doing these odd things? Can you name them, and point to their seeming?

63

LFC 07.28.13 at 10:32 pm

The U.S. incarcerates an absurdly large number of people — more than any other country — and also holds too many in solitary confinement for extended periods (cf. long-running litigation on this and prisoner hunger strikes in CA). This issue shd be distinguished from the question of political prisoners — i.e. people in prison for politically-motivated acts — of which there are a certain number in the U.S. but, as noted earlier in this thread, not on anything approaching the Chinese scale. (Nor does the U.S. usu. imprison people for expressing their beliefs, short of threats to commit violent acts.)

Manning is an exceptional and of course visible case (as, in a somewhat different way, was Jose Padilla, less obvs. a political case but he was held in a military brig for several yrs without formal charges, let alone trial). But it remains to be seen whether Manning, his trial just having finished, will be convicted (and if so, on what charges). Presumably, if the judge (there’s no jury) finds him guilty, he can take some kind of appeal within the mil. justice system (?).

64

Layman 07.28.13 at 10:53 pm

LFC @ 63

“But it remains to be seen whether Manning, his trial just having finished, will be convicted (and if so, on what charges). Presumably, if the judge (there’s no jury) finds him guilty, he can take some kind of appeal within the mil. justice system (?).”

The conviction rate in US courts-martial is something like 94%. Manning will certainly be convicted of something. And there’s an appellate court for the military, which has the power to correct legal error. I don’t know if it reverses trial outcomes with any frequency.

65

Martin Bento 07.29.13 at 2:10 am

The notion that forcing a country that pays lip service to human rights and protects them in some respects, though it does not include privacy as a human right, at least not consistently – the US – to share power with a country that holds human rights in open contempt – China – will lead to a net increase in respect for human rights seems pretty unlikely. Admittedly there is more to international control than cutting China in, but cutting China in will be a definite feature, and many other countries that would be cut in are also no friends of human rights, free expression, or privacy.

At this point, all the major powers, including the US, are more concerned with threats within than without. This includes, yes, terrorism, but also any political movement or popular practice that might pose a threat to established power, or (especially in the US, but to some degree in all) established commercial interests. Therefore the logical compromise for these powers to negotiate is one where they sacrifice some of their ability to foment subversion in foreign countries, at least the powerful players, which currently looks unpromising anyway, in return for the ability to monitor and suppress at will those who might pose a threat to them, which is to say non-state actors, violent or otherwise. Also, all security states want their own secrets kept and non-allied others exposed, but they want the first more than the second, so any treaty they agree to will empower all of them maximally, since that is what they all want, more than they want to weaken the others. The main thing security states can get from an international agreement is greater control outside their own borders. It’s the UKUSA agreement, where the US and UK each circumvented restrictions on surveilling their own citizens by surveilling one another’s, writ large. It will not mean less US surveillance; it will mean Chinese and Russian too.

It is worth noting what the US did right with the Internet. It protected very strong free speech standards. Other than child pornography, obscure and dangerous munitions info (e.g., building nukes), state secrets, or intellectual property, you can say what you want. All states would have agreed on state secrets, at least their own, though only powerful ones have as many secrets as the US. I suppose most would have agreed with child pornography and munitions info. Some would do better without intellectual property laws, and that is a current political dispute.

But even the EU probably would not have advocated an Internet with unqualified freedom of political expression – they would likely have banned “Nazi propaganda” or “hate speech” for example, and Germany may have wanted to ban Scientology – which may sound nice, but would have led to a much different Internet. The moderators here make judgments about what does and does not cross the line, but what if those judgments had to answer to law? What if someone made coded references to Scientology that the moderators did not understand? Trying to run a site like this would be enormously difficult and subject you to liability. If someone advocates eugenics, does that cross the line? What if it is non-exterminative? What if it is not clear whether it is non-exterminative? You might think yes or no, but do you want to end up in court if you guess wrong? You might avoid liability by being a common carrier, but then you can’t moderate at all: if you are a common carrier, you don’t get to filter content. The reason private moderation can work is that there is no government control of speech, save in fairly narrow and easily identified circumstances.

66

Martin Bento 07.29.13 at 2:20 am

One more point: I think the only reason Internet governance is as benign as it is is because the power players did not see what it would become when it was being created. ICANN may be too US-centric, but the only reason the US intelligence agencies are not directly in control is that the thing evolved that way. Status quo bias is largely protecting us, so we should be careful about opening that box. There are many worse possibilities than the status quo, and those who think otherwise have a dangerous lack of imagination.

67

Salient 07.29.13 at 2:33 am

Salient, who exactly are we treating like that?

You are a sick, disgusting person and are, in fact, one of the very few human beings in whose face I would gladly spit, given the chance.

(And, no, that sentence isn’t necessarily me speaking to Watson, though it’s definitely exactly equivalent to what Watson is communicating to me.)

The “let the troll converse forever with a mirror” fisking wasn’t successful, apparently. At some point we’re just going to have to agree to just not comment toward one another, at all, ever. I don’t have the energy to put up with your shit, and I don’t want to be in a position where I have to ensure you don’t have the energy to put up with mine.

68

Salient 07.29.13 at 2:35 am

Seriously, we’ve had multiple public conversations about what’s wrong with how you address me (and others) and at this point you’ve gotta know you’re being severely hurtful and you just don’t mind. I don’t get why you don’t mind. I don’t know what it’s like to be the kind of person who doesn’t mind, who is able to so blithely and nonchalantly engage in cruelty. What’s it like? I already feel uncomfortable and vaguely remorseful about what I just typed two minutes ago. What’s it like to not feel that?

69

Mao Cheng Ji 07.29.13 at 7:46 am

“The notion that forcing a country that pays lip service to human rights and protects them in some respects, though it does not include privacy as a human right, at least not consistently – the US – to share power with a country that holds human rights in open contempt – China – will lead to a net increase in respect for human rights seems pretty unlikely.”

This is, most definitely, not about any “respect for human rights”. This is about governing certain aspects of the infrastructure; making sure, for example, that there is a reputable certificate authority operating outside any national jurisdiction. DNS servers that won’t report to any government what domains you’re looking up. Etc.

70

Collin Street 07.29.13 at 8:21 am

The thing is, it’s not like having the internet not run by the ITU protects anyone from their local government’s spooks. Your local secret police service is already spying on you exactly as much as they fancy, censoring what they see fit, and they will whether the internet is US-controlled/dominated or not: the only difference is that the current setup allows the US government almost as much access to non-US communications as local governments get.

Or, currently, people can be spied on by the US or by their local government: decentralising and shifting to ITU control will not reduce local spying but will limit the scope of US spying. Which is to say: neutral for americans, a net reduction in spying for non-americans. Pareto-efficient, even, unless there are people out there who benefit from US spying.

71

Martin Bento 07.29.13 at 10:12 am

Well, if you consider privacy a human right, as I do, then it is a human rights issue, but let’s leave aside semantics.

The ITU has made quite clear that *increased* power of governments to monitor and control the Internet is item number 1 on their agenda. That is why groups like the EFF and the FAS have lined up against them. Why would such a group support DNS servers operating outside any national jurisdiction? That is exactly the sort of thing they are trying to stamp out. Their general premise has been that national governments have too little control over the Internet, not too much.

Even when the ITU cites the noblest ideals of its parent organization, the UN, it inserts telling caveats:

“n) One ideal is that the Internet, as a decentralized and open system, must be allowed to enable the world’s citizens to connect freely and express themselves consistent with fundamental principles of freedom of expression, as detailed in Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recently reaffirmed by the UN Human Rights Council, *while taking into consideration national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals*”[emphasis added]

The first principle of their multi-stakeholder model is “i. Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. ”

With regards to a general philosophy of Internet governance, they identify two views (this is an international organization and the US and its allies are members, so the US view has to be acknowledged. However, the proposals the ITU has put forward do not reflect the US/EU – basically western – view, which is why the US and Europe have strongly opposed them). One – associated by them with the US and EU – is that the current model of decentralized control – largely by non-profit groups at the level of basic protocols and for-profit companies at that of applications – has worked well and should be substantially retained. The other – pushed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Algeria, among others – holds that governments specifically are a stakeholder group that has been disempowered by the current system. One might think they mean governments other than the US, but that is not what they are saying, nor what their proposals imply. The position that the US or governments generally have too much power in the current system and that it needs to be reduced seems utterly alien to their thinking.

Here are some sources:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/dec/14/telecoms-treaty-internet-unregulated
http://www.zdnet.com/uns-itu-pursues-internet-control-again-this-week-7000015259/

Even (some of ) the Russian press acknowledges that the ITU is about establishing greater state control including deep packet inspection and censorship.
http://rt.com/usa/new-internet-itu-us-160/

Here is one of the ITUs own docs:
http://www.itu.int/md/S12-WTPF13PREP-R-0005/en

Overall, I see no evidence that ITU objects to anything the NSA is doing. Rather it wants other countries to do that too (as many no doubt to the best of their abilities), and much else besides.

72

Martin Bento 07.29.13 at 10:37 am

Collin, the ITUs own papers say nothing about limiting US surveillance; they speak of enabling other surveillance. Obviously, they are not investing so much in this fight because it is superfluous. They are also interested in imposing censorship. Do you feel terribly censored now? Do you think that things in the Arab world would have gone as they have recently had their governments truly been able to censor the Internet as they see fit? Or to readily associate real identities with Twitter accounts and the like. I don’t want to push exaggerated “Twitter revolution” hype, but people have been able to communicate over the Internet without it being censored or effectively tracked, even in the USA, and certainly elsewhere. This has a lot to do with how the protocols work, and how and by whom various entities are licensed, and that is why this battle is largely over these things. The NSA is tracking everyone. It is not censoring people. And even the NSA would like its job to be easier, truth be told. Get everyone back to dumb terminals, put all encryption and data storage on the server – those trends are dangerous, but they also underline that the status quo is far from “your local police monitoring you precisely as much as they fancy”. If you have a computer capable of encryption, this is never true.

There are two reasons why countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia are so keen to put the ITU in charge. One is that they don’t, in fact, have nearly as great a control over the Internet in their own countries as they would like. Even China does not, and it has put the most resources into this. The other is that they ideally would like to press control beyond their borders, indeed, it would seem that the only real way to control Internet content is to control it globally. So Pussy Riot and Falun Gong could be censored globally, not just in their own backyards. Likewise, images of the Prophet.

As for privacy issues, a big battle is eliminating the ability to operate on the Internet anonymously. The commercial services are pushing against this for their own reasons, but governments interested in suppression obviously can go further and for even more nefarious reasons. But in the current order it is hard. You have to make it more difficult to simply acquire an IP address -you want to force people have verified identities to get an IP address, even a temporary one. You can do this much more effectively if you can build it into the protocols, which is why so much of this fight is taking place at that level.

73

Mao Cheng Ji 07.29.13 at 2:01 pm

Martin, could you link to these ITU papers that express their interest in censorship, please.

Also, how do you know about the “two reasons why countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia are so keen to put the ITU in charge”? Why couldn’t the desire to limit the US hegemony be a reason? Or the reason.

74

Sebastian H 07.29.13 at 3:39 pm

Why couldnt it be? it could be in theory, but it isnt.

A desire to limit US hegemony in the field is a second order reason, so it helps to go back to the first order reasons. Saudi Arabia wants to restrict blasphemy and sin on the Internet and the US hegemony makes that difficult because the US doesn’t want to restrict blasphemy and has a much more narrow definition of sin. Russia wants to limit communication among agitators, and to control local information to keep bad news from spreading. I suppose you could frame that as anti hegemony, but really it is anti information, and Russia is against the US because the US doesn’t allow restrictions as tight as Russia wants.

The problem with your approach to the discussion is that the second order hegemony questions would be resolved by letting lots of countries get more control over information than the current regime allows, and their professed aim is to suppress it. So if your first order concern is to promote a freer Internet than the current US dominated regime, the tactic looks very dubious.

75

Bruce Wilder 07.29.13 at 3:47 pm

Identification is a critical issue, and it is tied to the emergence of payments systems. Very, very powerful, and shadowy interests in the U.S. have worked long and hard to prevent institution of a system of identification — I don’t know why; I just make the observation. The U.S. has rampant identity theft problems for a reason, and I don’t think it is because of an all-powerful, obstructive ACLU.

What does emerge from the efforts to re-invent payments systems, and, incidentally, identification, may well have a design intended to be asymmetric: you cannot avoid or obscure personal identification, but you are not allowed to verify corporate identification; who owes money to a bank might be very hard to deny, even when it is not true — but who owns a mortgage on a house might be impossible to verify. “The check is in the mail” will work for corporate parties in relation to powerless individuals and households, but not vice versa. And, the power of a public infrastructure of courts to intervene in property and debt disputes will be curtailed in favor of private arbitration, taking identification and payments systems in a neo-feudal direction.

Censorship? That’s what you’re worried about? Keep twitter and facebook and instagram in a fishbowl, and nothing like “content” censorship will be necessary to prevent social, political organization. The key there is membership, and the key to tracking membership is identification and association — intervention on the level of ideas and information is child’s play; the real work is personal identity and social association.

Regarding surveillance, tunneling provides nominal protection for content, but not for the fact of communication. The NSA efforts and commercial data mining are mostly about the “meta data” — the network patterns, locations, times and places, associations and correlations — not the content. You don’t need much more than a few hints of content to infer a great deal. It is abstract, but, given the broad outline of communication architecture, it is difficult to see how any universal system could provide privacy protections for individuals and groups without a system of identification that enabled extensive use of aliases, and a way for an individual to manage those aliases, without the individual’s own cognitive insufficiencies, recreating a clustered pattern equivalent to unique, individual identity.

76

Mao Cheng Ji 07.29.13 at 4:09 pm

“Saudi Arabia wants to restrict blasphemy and sin on the Internet …”

With all due respect, that’s just bullshit. One could declare, just as convincingly, that Saudi Arabia wants more blasphemy, to create a siege atmosphere, or something. Same goes for Russia. The surveillance stuff is real, the rest is free-style rationalizations.

77

Ronan(rf) 07.29.13 at 4:11 pm

Why would Saudi Arabia want to undermine US hegemony in general, though?

78

Mao Cheng Ji 07.29.13 at 4:20 pm

US hegemony on the Internet. Anyone’s hegemony. Why, I would, if I were them. I would want to be able to communicate without worrying about being blackmailed.

79

Sebastian H 07.29.13 at 4:32 pm

“One could declare, just as convincingly…” Are you actually making the silly declaration, or pretending that someone might? I don’t want to argue with propositions that you can’t even be bothered to believe

80

bianca steele 07.29.13 at 4:41 pm

I’m assuming there isn’t anything leaking into this discussion from old feuds between the ITU and IETF, or between the phone companies (basically on the ITU side) and “the Internet.” Speaking as someone [1] who was once professionally inclined to find technical merit on (what’s now) the ITU side, in my little corner of the industry, and finally decided it couldn’t really be done, there’s really no question of reinstating ITU technical dominance, though AFAIK the phone companies still use it even in North America. (W3C dominance, whatever that might mean, is something different. They’re both European but they’re not the same people.) This is about regulatory bodies, not things like IETF.

[1] who changed to a screen name in part to avoid feeling compelled to say something on the topic, as a matter of professional pride, when someone was wrong on the Internet

81

Mao Cheng Ji 07.29.13 at 4:57 pm

But it doesn’t seem sillier to me than “Saudi Arabia wants to restrict blasphemy and sin on the Internet”. Why would they? They are interesting in money and power, not in restricting sin. If they were worried about sin, they would’ve lived in a cave somewhere, and we wouldn’t be talking about them.

82

Ronan(rf) 07.29.13 at 5:25 pm

‘They’re’ interested in power and money, and restricting sin, or at least some of their support base are interested in restricting sin
Why couldn’t they be interested in both?

83

Mao Cheng Ji 07.29.13 at 5:40 pm

It’s just an irrelevant speculation. We talk about the Saudi rulers because they are Saudi rulers; their attitudes towards pornography, whatever they are, are accidental and irrelevant. Personally, I highly doubt that they care about it at all.

84

Substance McGravitas 07.29.13 at 5:50 pm

85

Watson Ladd 07.30.13 at 1:07 am

Bruce, you and I are posting under our own names here. We both know that we will not be arrested for what we say. How exactly is the NSA threatening that? There are many things wrong with the surveillance program: lack of democratic oversight, tenuous legal basis, secret law. But to argue that the rights of someone marching in a protest are infringed when someone keeps track of him being there is a bit weird. Naturally there are obvious ways in which surveillance can be abused: a gay man in Malaysia or rural Texas could be blackmailed, etc. Then again, my response to Snowden revealing that the CIA manipulated a Swiss banker into driving drunk one was of admiration for skill, rather than moral revulsion.

As for identification and payments, every single transaction on the financial markets has a deep chain of custody. Identity theft exists in the US because banks are forced to reimburse their customers for it: Chip & PIN doesn’t eliminate this fraud, just makes the victims have no recourse. End of the day, a slight rise in the spread is cheaper than removing all the opportunities for fraud.

86

Jake 07.30.13 at 2:27 am

Bruce, your identity theft observation is fascinating. I’d never thought of it that way but you are absolutely right.

Watson, from everything I’ve heard Chip&PIN cuts fraud by a massive amount. Credit card processors reimburse their customers but get most of the money back from merchants who don’t have much say in the matter. The need for sophisticated anti-fraud measures acts as a huge barrier to entry in the payment processing market so it’s certainly plausible that the credit card companies would block a solution that would open them up to competition from upstarts…

87

William Timberman 07.30.13 at 4:44 am

One thing I would add to BW’s meditation on the problem of identity: for the purposes of political control, you don’t have to prove anything about anybody. In fact, you can grab just about anyone, make up any criminal story about him that you want, then let the character assassination practiced by the like of Fox News, or worse, and the judicial oversight practiced by the FISA court, or worse, do the rest of your dirty work for you. Today it’s Julian Assange; actually try to actually organize political alternatives to the corruptions of the status quo, and tomorrow it could be you.

The fact that if you stay on your couch, life will go on much as it has before, except with lower pay and less job security, should be of less comfort to most people than it apparently is, but it’s early days yet. If the people pushing this really intend to take it to its logical conclusion, there’s no telling what will happen five or ten years down the road, but one thing is certain: they absolutely will not have it all their own way forever.

88

Mao Cheng Ji 07.30.13 at 6:28 am

Substance 84, they find it useful to block certain sites inside their kingdom. That doesn’t mean that they care what you browse.

89

Substance McGravitas 07.30.13 at 7:32 am

I was answering the comment immediately above mine. To the larger question of what the Saudi rulers might want on the internet as a whole – if you are positing a simple interest in money and power, what makes you think that interest stops at a border?

Myself I’ll settle for a religious explanation for an idea of what they might want the world to look like. Not really that different from the money and power outlook after all, but humans like to pretend they’re doing something good instead of just grasping.

90

Sebastian H 07.30.13 at 7:41 am

“Substance 84, they find it useful to block certain sites inside their kingdom. That doesn’t mean that they care what you browse.”

So why do they want international control of the Internet if they only want to restrict internal use?

91

Bruce Wilder 07.30.13 at 7:43 am

Watson Ladd @ 85: We both know that we will not be arrested for what we say. How exactly is the NSA threatening that?

I don’t believe that I said anything about arrest for something said or written. I was scoffing, in fact, at the suggestion that censorship was the primary focus of anyone’s concerns.

Watson Ladd: “. . . to argue that the rights of someone marching in a protest are infringed when someone keeps track of him being there is a bit weird.”

Is it? Who is “someone”? There are a lot of potential “someones” in this world; there are plenty, who would worry me.

And, if “someone” puts a protestor on a watchlist? no-fly list?

Or, maybe, it’s a bit more subtle: just nudges the ol’ credit score a bit. You don’t have to say anything about someone’s credit; just checking it lowers the credit score, after all. And, that could affect their ability to lease a car or get a new job.

How many Watson Ladd’s are there in this world? Perhaps we could invent a few more, just to stir the pot; maybe an ersatz Watson Ladd could be arrested for possessing child pornography. Surely, no one, who knows you, would confuse you for that other, possibly fictional persona. You’re not related, are you? If that other Watson Ladd wrote some scurrilous thing at CT, we’d all assume it was you! Pretty soon, you’d be posting from the Moscow transit lounge, and we’d wonder at the strange twist of fate . . .

there are obvious ways in which surveillance can be abused: a gay man in Malaysia or rural Texas could be blackmailed, etc.

Leave the 1950s much?

Blackmail and extortion are risky activities for the perpetrator, who cannot do either very effectively while remaining secret or anonymous, and cannot be sure of how the game set in motion will be played out. The really skilled do something a bit broader, but easier to control. J. Edgar Hoover wouldn’t use a scandalous detail to blackmail a politician; he would do just the opposite: assuring the subject of potential scandal that his secrets were safe with the FBI. Pretty soon everyone in Washington thought J Edgar and his good friend, Clyde Tolson, had files on just about every important politician, and Hoover was . . . influential.

Watson Ladd: a slight rise in the spread is cheaper than removing all the opportunities for fraud

The spread, today, may be largely made up of opportunities for fraud, usury and related misdeeds. Remove all the opportunities for fraud and usury, and 19 out of the 20 largest financial institutions would be insolvent.

Money is information; it is how we keep score. And, right now, the system is deeply corrupt. That’s the context in which the surveillance state is burgeoning. It is not a coincidence.

92

Marc 07.30.13 at 2:03 pm

If you go deep enough into conspiracy theories you get lost. I think the difference in outlook on what the NSA is doing is the difference between what could be and what has been shown to be. The difference between Nixon and Obama is instructive. Nixon was forced out of office because he targeted political opponents with the tools of the state. Nixon ordered operatives to break into Democratic party headquarters and planting listening devices, and his campaign shook donors down for cash by threatening them with IRS audits.

Most of the talk around Obama is centered around things that theoretically could be done. Yes, I know – Manning and Snowden. Manning and Snowden did things that would be serious crimes in virtually every country on the globe. People who release classified documents and diplomatic cables are not “political opponents” in any meaningful sense of the term. There is a difference between arresting opposition political leaders, as in Russia, and arresting people who deliberately break the law.

It’s also true that the concern about *potential* abuse is real and valid. And we’re seeing serious movement within the political system on precisely these grounds. There is also pressure from US companies. As Jim Fallows has noted, the US program is doing commercial damage to their interests – and the US government really has been a force for good on internet architecture, and they are compromised morally by their spying. So I’d place the strongest bet on legal reform in the US as a solution.

93

Barry 07.30.13 at 2:40 pm

MArc: “If you go deep enough into conspiracy theories you get lost. I think the difference in outlook on what the NSA is doing is the difference between what could be and what has been shown to be. The difference between Nixon and Obama is instructive. Nixon was forced out of office because he targeted political opponents with the tools of the state. Nixon ordered operatives to break into Democratic party headquarters and planting listening devices, and his campaign shook donors down for cash by threatening them with IRS audits. ”

Note that Nixon got in trouble because of things which got irretrievably in the public eye, and were provable (along with a lot of people in positions of power/influence not backing down).

With secret monitoring, proving anything specific is well-nigh impossible.

And when reading anything mentioned above about what people with this information plus official connections can do, remember that we are moving swiftly into an information-dominated age. For example, somebody on another blog mentioned that it’d be a pain if your face pattern were put onto a list of criminals, in a world where any commercial door was programmed to recognize faces….
And the no-fly list was a really bad precedent, because it means that the US government can restrict the actions of citizens, with no proof or recourse.

94

Mao Cheng Ji 07.30.13 at 2:49 pm

“So why do they want international control of the Internet if they only want to restrict internal use?”

I suggest that it’s not related to their censorship activities. The US has significant control over the infrastructure. The US is using its advantage for world-wide surveillance, and, possibly, even for a cross-border sabotage (stuxnet). How this is not a sufficient reason to prefer international control, whether you’re Saudi Arabia, or China, or Cuba, or Monaco?

95

Marc 07.30.13 at 3:40 pm

@93: The potential is clearly bad. The differences in attitude you’re seeing amount to differing assessments of how likely this bad potential is to be realized. Perhaps it’s a matter of temperament; I’ve never found conspiracy theories appealing. Occams’ Razor explains most things.

96

Bruce Wilder 07.30.13 at 4:23 pm

Marc @ 95: I’ve never found conspiracy theories appealing.

I’m going to suggest that what you have found, is that “conspiracy theories” are a useful defense mechanism. Paranoia is a useful human intuition, but it is potentially disabling, and, so we also have this capacity to shut paranoia down, short-circuit it, before it becomes an uncontrollable obsession exhausting one’s cognitive capacity with maybes and suspicions. Paranoid intuitions trigger denial, and so a very common neurotic maneuver is to combine them, put together a kind of strawman argument in paranoid form, and then deny it by dismissing it as a “conspiracy theory”.

There’s no “conspiracy” here. Never mind that conspiracies are carried out all the time. That’s not what is alleged here. What there is, here, is the operation of a vast bureaucratic apparatus.

In secret.

That last is what should tip you off, and would, if you are keeping your Occam’s Razor sharp.

The secrecy does not make it a small “conspiracy” that you can dismiss. It is still a vast well-funded bureaucracy. And, what it does, is secret. Not just unknown to you personally, as most things must be, but unknowable to you or anyone sympathetic to the public interest. And, the secrecy is not a “conspiracy” that you can dismiss, not an excuse for substituting your complacent imaginings, for someone else’s alarmist imagining, and thinking that substitution is a political opinion. That secrecy is just the fact that your political opinion does not matter; no one’s does. Effective opposition to this political regime is a crime. An idle political opinion is idle. There’s no distinction between political opposition and crime, and no difference. Again, Occam’s razor.

97

Random Lurker 07.30.13 at 5:06 pm

“Manning and Snowden did things that would be serious crimes in virtually every country on the globe. People who release classified documents and diplomatic cables are not “political opponents” in any meaningful sense of the term. There is a difference between arresting opposition political leaders, as in Russia, and arresting people who deliberately break the law.”

There is no difference, because the law is crafted by the government so that if you are in opposition to it, you are breaking the law.

– Manning: shows documents that demostrate that american soldiers are doing something that they’re not supposing to be doing by the official terms of their services.
– Snowden: shows documents that demostrate that the NSA is doing something that is not supposed to be doing by the official terms of its service.

Bot accused of causing big risks to the security of the nations, but the informations they leaked, in theory, had to be public beforehand because:

1) in theory, in a democratic country, “the people” have the power;
2) the government only administrates the power in the name of the people, and is subject to the people’s judgments. Something like shareholders and the CEO.
3) this implies that the people have to know what the government is doing.

If the government is free to redefine what the people are allowed to know and what not, the whole idea of democracy falls apart.

98

William Timberman 07.30.13 at 5:39 pm

This is by no means a novel insight, but what BW is describing here is a union of the worst features of the tyranny of the majority so feared by men of property in the Eighteenth Century, and an ultra modern technological apparatus of enemy selection and demonization — the Soviet Union on steroids, if you like, although it usually looks more like the Disneyland writ large. You know, the place where you can’t have anything that the proprietors aren’t selling, happy music plays 24/7/365, the operators are forbidden on pain of excommunication from taking off their character masks, and anyone creating a disturbance disappears down a tunnel entrance hidden behind the façade of Small World or Space Mountain.

99

Barry 07.30.13 at 5:50 pm

Adding on to Bruce’s comment – Marc, this is in fact a conspiracy. People are meeting and deciding on things, in secret, and carrying them out, in secret. We see the odd single-digit percentage which leaks out or is unavoidably public.

When you see an actual conspiracy, and deny that it exists, that’s not wisdom, that’s denying reality.

100

Trader Joe 07.30.13 at 6:53 pm

@98
Do you know the words to Small World? Perhaps you’re on to more than you know:

It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
It’s a world of hope and a world of fears
There is so much we share, it is time we’re aware

Its a small world after all

(Repeat until head explodes)

“There is so much we share, it is time we’re aware” could be the NSA motto.

101

Marc 07.30.13 at 7:09 pm

Any what, precisely, is this conspiracy achieving? This is where the tinfoil hat approach serves poorly. The NSA program just came very close to losing a congressional vote. There has been a lot of robust criticism. In the case of Nixon I could point to extremely specific criminal acts and extremely specific victims. Name names and things that were done to those people. Otherwise it’s no different than the Timecube guy.

102

Layman 07.30.13 at 7:11 pm

Watson @ 85

“Bruce, you and I are posting under our own names here. We both know that we will not be arrested for what we say.”

I’d say that rather depends on what you do say. If you want to test it, take up posting calls for terrorism. Ignore that small aircraft buzzing around.

103

William Timberman 07.30.13 at 7:26 pm

Trader Joe @ 100

Unfortunately, anyone who’s raised a child in the U.S. in the last sixty years or so — especially in Southern California, knows the words to Small World.

104

John Quiggin 07.30.13 at 11:34 pm

” In the case of Nixon I could point to extremely specific criminal acts and extremely specific victims. Name names and things that were done to those people. ”

Given that Obama has successfully asserted Executive Privilege on a scale undreamed of by Nixon, the concept of “criminal acts” has ceased to apply to anything done on his orders.

But, the extra-legal actions that have affected substantial numbers of people include
* The no-fly list
* Border detention and harassment of critics of the security state
* Entrapment actions against Muslims chosen on the basis of speech
* Communications Management Units for those convicted of political crimes

In total, many more people affected, and more severely than by Nixon

105

Martin Bento 07.31.13 at 2:37 am

Bruce, asymmetrical privacy (#75) is, of course, just the continuation of current trends, but just what of that do you imagine the ITU would oppose? Russia is largely spearheading this. Do you suppose the land where it is difficult even to define the boundaries between corporation, government, and mafia is going to want a more symmetrical transparency? Is the rich playboy Saudi elite, with their repressive theocracy, going to want to see their own lives subjected to the same scrutiny they would apply to their subjects? Why? The ITU doesn’t even pretend to be concerned with the matters you are, and much of their agenda would worsen them. Is Iran going to use deep packet inspection to locate and go after homosexuals? Why would they not? Have they ever even suggested they would refrain from this? They are actively persecuting gays, though they deny the accusations from human rights groups that they are executing them (they claim all the gays they execute are guilty too of other crimes, like rape). In the US and UK, expanded powers to fight terrorism were applied almost immediately to crimes like drugs, despite disavowals. What do you expect from countries that don’t even make disavowals?

As for censorship, nations are practicing it now. Saudi Arabia, as pointed out upthread. China, famously. In fact, China has been recycling Falun Gong members for kidneys for more than a decade, over FG’s claims of free expression in their newsletters. How can you maintain that countries don’t care about things they are acting on to the point of killing people?

I also notice you haven’t addressed at all my main argument, which is that in a world where all the major (and almost all the minor) states see their primary threats as emerging from non-state actors from terrorist organizations to secessionist movements to non-violent dissent, the logical compromise for them all to work out is one where all of their powers to combat these sort of threats are maximized. No one is likely to sacrifice their own power over such threats for the sake of also weakening someone else’s. Non-state actors are a greater threat than any state – to the US, to Russia, to China, to Saudi Arabia, to Israel (pretty much, gets a bit murky here), to the EU. To the extent that these players also want simply to maximize their power and money, this too is most readily achievable by strengthening control of the Internet, weakening privacy, and minimizing accountability for the powerful. Invading someone else territory is mostly off the agenda, and subverting another state from within is much less likely and important than protecting your own power structures. Why would any of the players agree to a treaty that limits them with regards to such threats and such opportunities just because it also limits others?

106

Martin Bento 07.31.13 at 2:42 am

Mao, If you want to analyze political documents from government bodies, you’re going to have to develop an ear for euphemism. When they say they will support free expression, “while taking into consideration” – some other matters, that means those other matters are intended to restrict the right of free expression, and, since they are expressly talking about government or inter-government authority, yes, that does mean censorship. What are the other matters? National Security – as in the United States, there is such a thing, but largely this means suppression of political dissent or people or info inconvenient to established power,. Public Order – this means the unfettering of law enforcement, the very thing people are complaining about with the NSA, and Public Health and Morals – this means sex and religion, specifically restrictions on sexual activity or expression (though in context, expression, as this phrase is qualifying “free expression”) or on religious expression, including (especially) criticism of religion or of particular religions or violation of religious taboos.

The elements of the Islamic world concerned with blasphemy – which is certainly not all Muslims, but is also certainly a faction that exists – seem not at concerned with where it occurs: Danish newspapers, YouTube videos, South Park. I’m sure the Saudi government condemned all of those. Which makes sense, actually. If the problem with blasphemy is that it is an offense in the eyes of God; they eyes of God know no borders.

107

Bruce Wilder 07.31.13 at 4:56 am

Marc @ 101: Any what, precisely, is this conspiracy achieving?

If you knew that, we’d have to kill you.

Seriously, you just don’t seem to be getting this “secrecy” business at all. No one really cares what you imagine, as long as you believe the Big Lies when they are told.

Classified does not mean secret in a common-sense meaning of secret. What classified means is that the matter can not be discussed by the informed. You, citizen, cannot know what this “conspiracy” is achieving. This is by design. (And, notice that you are the only one using “conspiracy” as a term of art. You might as well suck your thumb. It would be as psychologically satisfying.)

I actually have had a high level security clearance. What it means is that I can not discuss in public things about which i have expert knowledge. Democracy and expertise are disabled — a twofer! That is what is being accomplished. Precisely.

And, no, I’m not kidding. Want war? Claim secret knowledge of wmd.

And why limit tourself to war? The terms of the transpacific partnership — a sweeping trade agreement, which may eliminate the regulatory state, have been classified, so Congress cannot investigate it or debate it.

108

John Quiggin 07.31.13 at 5:45 am

The terms of the transpacific partnership — a sweeping trade agreement, which may eliminate the regulatory state, have been classified, so Congress cannot investigate it or debate it.

That is amazing, and scarier in many ways than military secrecy. I’ll take the opportunity to plug this book, to which I contributed a chapter

http://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=94&book=9781742376271

109

Marc 07.31.13 at 1:19 pm

@104: I’m sorry, but this is historical amnesia. Here, for example, is Nixons enemies list:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixon%27s_Enemies_List

You can then add the targeting of opponents of the Vietnam war, domestic radicals (the Black Panthers, Weathermen, et al.), Civil Rights leaders…..I could go on at length. And these programs were targeted *specifically* at political opposition. What Hoover and Nixon did dwarfs anything that Obama is accused of.

When I compare this to the “no-fly” list, for example, I’m comparing apples and bricks. There people who want to crash planes into buildings. That’s not the same as someone who wants to desegregate buses. The equivalent of Nixon would be arresting talk show hosts and Republican senators and governors on trumped-up charges. It matters that this isn’t happening (compare to Russia if you want to see actual political repression at the hand of the state. You know, the place where Snowden went.)

The national security state is clearly out of control in size and scope. But some knowledge of where we have been, and some perspective, is essential too.

110

Layman 07.31.13 at 1:29 pm

Marc @ 109

“You know, the place where Snowden went.”

I find this particular complaint about Snowden just plain silly. If you want to avoid the long arm of the US, and it’s extralegal appendages as well, you must needs go where they don’t always reach. I’m sure he’d much rather be in Paris, but if he were in Paris, he’d no longer be in Paris; would he?

111

Layman 07.31.13 at 4:03 pm

Martin @ 105

“Non-state actors are a greater threat than any state – to the US, to Russia, to China, to Saudi Arabia, to Israel (pretty much, gets a bit murky here), to the EU.”

This statement is simply wrong, and pernicious to boot. It should be possible for anyone to recognize that non-state actors don’t pose an existential threat to the US (or Russia, or China, or the EU). The most successful terrorist attack of all time killed about 3,000 people. Of course that’s terrible, even horrifying, but in that same year (2001) and country (USA) traffic fatalities totaled more than 42,000.

Yet we don’t think bad driving is an existential threat to the survival of the US. If the potential for large numbers of deaths is what drives the desire to abandon the Constitution in favor of protection, why don’t we use the NSA to combat drunk driving? It ought to be easy – simply have them track cell phone GPS locations and correlate those locations with places of business and residence. Citizen X moved from a bar to his home, in a period of time which suggests an average speed of 40mph? Let’s send someone to have a talk with Citizen X. Who could object? After all, if terrorism is a threat to public safety, driving is a far greater threat to that same safety. Pfui!

112

Martin Bento 07.31.13 at 6:15 pm

I didn’t say terrorist pose an existential threat to anyone. I said non-state actors, of whom terrorists are a subset, are the biggest threat that the powerful players are concerned with. Russia is concerned with various secessionist movements that may or may not deploy terrorism. They are not an existential threat, but they are threatening Russia with the loss of something it values – control of some of what it sees as its territory. Is Russia worried about being invaded by the EU, China, or the US? No, those things are not on the horizon. The US is concerned with political movements that threaten established power and with terrorism. None of that constitutes existential threats, but they do constitute threats to power. The US is not concerned that some other power will attack it. China? Terrified of dissident movements. Go on down the list. You seem to think the only threats states are concerned with are plausibly existential ones, and that is clearly false.

113

Martin Bento 07.31.13 at 6:19 pm

Further, I didn’t say anything the NSA did was justified by fighting terrorism or any other consideration. It seems like you just read the words “non-state actor” and ran into a knee-jerk canned rant about how terrorism is an exaggerated danger without even trying to understand what I was saying.

114

Martin Bento 07.31.13 at 6:34 pm

As for the transpacific partnership, this is an example of what international treaties primarily are these days, at least when the stakes are high: ways for governments to do things they would be politically constrained from doing directly. Although I have concentrated on the threats to the internet posed by non-US actors, as all the emphasis here seems to be on the US threat, there is a good likelihood that opening international treaty negotiations on Internet governance (is this not where ITU involvement is likely to head?) will also the US faults by providing international cover.

For example, there have been recent efforts by US corporations to use defamation laws to silence critics. These have mostly fallen flat because case law is clearly against this. How can this be changed? Well, the Supes could do this, but it is not clear they will get a case giving them the chance, Kennedy is unreliable, and, if the next Pres is Dem (currently look likely because the Repubs are at war with themselves on multiple fronts), the Court will likely moderate. So Congress could pass a law. But it won’t because the politics of making it illegal to criticize corporations are terrible and the unconstitutionality too obvious. This calls for an international agreement! Limit it to transmissions over the Internet and you have caught essentially all public and much private communication – everything of interest. And, of course, you are not regulating speech, you are regulating the Internet, so it’s OK with the Constitution, which doesn’t address the Internet at all. So some unidentified party in the secret cabal negotiating this twists America’s arm real hard, and corporations get the right to sue critics for loss of brand value as a tort, regardless of questions of truth, if their criticisms are transmitted over the Internet (we’re not regulating speech here. We’re just regulating the Internet). Much of the evil done in the world over the past quarter century has been done by international treaties where power can be exercised without accountability. There are all sorts of things the US might want to be arm-twisted into doing if the situation arises.

115

John Quiggin 07.31.13 at 7:59 pm

I agree there’s a bit of amnesia here. I thought Nixon had launched IRS audits of those on the enemies list (20 people) but Wikipedia tells me the IRS refused to do it. So, the enemies list was an amateur effort, compared to the professionalism of the NSA.

By contrast, Obama has been highly successful in cutting off banking facilities to Wikileaks, and in threatening and delivering dire consequences (such as routine border searches and detention, amounting to an effective ban on international travel) to anyone who supports the organization.

I’d also be interested in you spelling out your claim, regarding the 20 000 or so people on the no-fly list “There people who want to crash planes into buildings”. Did you mean “these are”? Do you have any grounds for believing that, given that the list is secret as are the procedures by which people get on and off it.

116

Martin Bento 07.31.13 at 8:10 pm

“will also the US faults by providing international cover”
should be
“will also magnify the US faults by providing international cover”

There are other minor errors too, but I think the intention can be inferred. If anyone is confused by anything, please ask. I really should proofread, but sometimes I feel pressed for time and dash something off. Sorry.

117

Layman 07.31.13 at 8:25 pm

Martin @ 113

My rant wasn’t intended to be directed at you; it was directed at the idea you were calling attention to. I apologize for failing to make that distinction.

Those in power in the US may well believe that terrorists and dissidents are a threat to their rule; but if they do, they’re fundamentally irrational. I get that you’re pointing out the consequences of those beliefs, but I think it is a mistake not to challenge the fantastic nature of those beliefs every time they come up.

118

Andrew F. 08.01.13 at 3:22 pm

I think Martin Bento and others have effectively laid to rest the idea of shifting power to the ITU. Sebastian’s distinction between problems of access (associated with censorship and site-blocking) and problems of surveillance is a useful one.

On access, the US position is quite good. The policy of the US Government is to support programs and infrastructure that enable greater access, with particular focus on improving access for those behind the walls of authoritarian regimes. Here is a well written overview: Brookings Institution

Moreover, for key US companies, and for the US tech industry, an open internet capable of supporting ever increasing amounts of traffic, is deeply important. Their interests lie in preventing nations like China – which perceive information flow as a socially disruptive force that must be finely managed – from building tools, and developing international norms and policies, that make it harder for information to be sent or received.

So that’s access. I don’t think the US poses any threat at all to access; in fact, it’s one of the key bulwarks supporting the expansion of access. And, let’s remember that a population greater than the US and the EU combined lives under Chinese censorship; if we’re determining “threat to a free and open internet” by the number of people whose access is threatened, the Chinese government will be a very large threat indeed as more of the Chinese population becomes able to use the internet.

But what about surveillance? It’s a more difficult issue. Within the United States, the programs disclosed thus far present very little problem (Greenwald’s creative and breathless interpretations of the latest powerpoint presentation notwithstanding). Surveillance of “US Persons” is highly regulated and controlled. Dissent is open, vigorous, and often well funded in the United States. The NSA hands out awards to researchers who also do not think that a free society is compatible with an organisation like the NSA in its current form. No one is using the NSA or the CIA or the FBI to gather blackmail material on dissidents. Editors and publishers of media highly critical of the US Government, and that facilitate and report on leaks regularly, are not subject to retribution for doing so; indeed, some of the most respected editors, publishers, and reporters in the US gained their respect by doing precisely that.

Obviously the difficult part of the question arises with respect to surveillance by the US, or nearly any other industrialized country, of international internet traffic. This is something that is less regulated, and the existing laws and regulations are primarily designed to protect the citizens of the government conducting the surveillance. A German citizen has protection from the German government, but not from the British government, for example.

There are three problems here. First, there is the question of whether governments can exchange information as a means of circumventing their own rules on the surveillance of their citizens. Second, there is the question of whether international surveillance by itself either has a chilling effect on free speech or has enabled other activities to suppress free speech. Third, there is the question of whether such surveillance violates individual privacy.

With respect to liberal democracies, the first two problems are largely minimal. There is no evidence of a chilling effect on free speech, nor is there evidence that international surveillance is being used to suppress free speech. Laws in the US, at least, do not allow the US Government to circumvent restrictions on surveillance by essentially using a foreign intelligence service as a proxy; if other nations lack such protections, then the obvious fix is to create them.

The privacy issue is tougher. I don’t like the idea that foreign governments might be able to intercept and read my communications. I also understand that foreign governments are tasked with protecting their own security and national interests, and that using electronic surveillance is an important tool to that end.

In part the privacy problem is ameliorated by the self-interest of the governments conducting surveillance. Most communications and most persons are simply of no interest to intelligence agencies. Not only would I prefer they not read my emails, but they would also prefer to not read my emails.

If I really dislike even the possibility that someone might read my personal communications, then there are freely available tools (along with tutorials for the novice) that I can use to further insulate my privacy. These tools have the disadvantage of requiring the person to whom I’m communicating to also be able to use those tools, and so can be inconvenient. However, if the possibility bothers a sufficient number of people, then presumably there will be widespread interest in adopting and using those tools.

In short, concern about surveillance by one’s domestic government is best addressed by domestic law; concern about surveillance by foreign governments is best addressed by technology. The current “governance” and structure of the internet has allowed, and encouraged, the growth of such technological tools and the easy availability of those tools.

So I do not see a shift in governance or structure as usefully protecting or expanding access, or as usefully resolving concerns about surveillance. Domestic law and technology seem to be the best solutions.

119

William Timberman 08.01.13 at 3:59 pm

With a bucket of whitewash as large as you seem to have, why limit yourself to Internet governance? Given time, and the indulgence of the proprietors, you could just as easily run your roller over the entire status quo. I suppose we must be patient, and let the craftsman work at his own pace….

120

Mao Cheng Ji 08.01.13 at 4:57 pm

Once upon a time, the ITU was in charge of the radio frequencies, the Soviet Union kept jamming the Voice of America on its territory, and no one even dreamed of the silly idea that the ITU would facilitate the jamming of American radio stations inside the US. Moreover, the ITU was making (albeit subtle) noises about declaring jamming a violation of the international rules.

How in the world has censorship become an argument against the ITU? It’s just beyond rational discourse, if you ask me.

Comments on this entry are closed.