Securing National Communications

The truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped…” – Edward Snowden, Former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor.

Brazillian President Dilma Rousseff used her speech to the U.N. General Assembly on September 24 to respond to the allegations of the USA spying on her government and on national interests. In the process, she laid out a vision of cybersecurity and net neutrality that is compelling to countries waking up to risks and consequence of not investing sufficiently in locating critical Internet infrastructure within their national borders.

Brazil’s response came amidst reports that the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted her communications, hacked into the state-owned Petrobras oil company’s network and spied on Brazilians who entrusted their personal data to U.S. tech companies such as Facebook and Google–and spied on President Rousseff herself.

The government now intends to implement a series of measures to better secure Brazilian generated Internet data and to expand and strengthen the country’s telecommunications infrastructure. At present, most of Brazil’s global Internet traffic passes through the United States, so Brazilian government plans to:

  • Mandate foreign-based Internet companies like Google and Facebook to build servers and store data inside Brazil’s borders so that they would be subject to Brazilian privacy laws;
  • Build more internet exchange points in order to keep local bound Internet traffic within the country instead of unnecessarily and expensively sending out only to bring it back to local users;
  • Launch a state-run encrypted email service through its postal service to act as an alternative to Gmail, Yahoo Mail and other foreign email services;
  • Build more data centers so that more of its electronic data can be stored locally as the nation assumes greater control over Brazilians’ Internet use;
  • Laying a new underwater cable to Europe and also link to other South American nations so that Brazil can enjoy more options for routing its Internet traffic with neighbouring countries and with the world.

Global Backlash to NSA Spying

This is all part of the fallout from the revelations of widespread and systematic spying by the NSA released by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that continue to raise concerns globally on internet security and cyber-sovereignty.

US President Barack Obama used his own speech to the UN General Assembly to address the concerns over U.S. surveillance, stating, “just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we have begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so as to properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies, with the privacy concerns that all people share.”

But given the magnitude and ramifications of the revelations of US spying over the Internet over the past several months, the U.S. government has ceded considerable moral ground. Consequently, the US is a less credible advocate for online civil liberties and a less convincing defender of best practices in cyberspace.

“The global backlash is only beginning and will get far more severe in coming months,” according to Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Institute at the Washington-based New America Foundation think tank. “This notion of national privacy sovereignty is going to be an increasingly salient issue around the globe.”

If other nations follow Brazil’s lead, US interests could lose business. The fallout from the NSA spying scandal could cost as much as $35 billion in lost business by 2016 in the U.S. cloud computing industry alone, according to an August study by a respected U.S. technology policy nonprofit.

Good for the Global Internet

But this can all actually help strengthen and develop the resilience of the global Internet. Around the world, new attention is being paid to strengthening national Internet infrastructure; improving domestic Internet traffic routing; and locating other components of critical Internet structure within country. This is a good thing.

Brazil, for example, has already announced plans to build more Internet exchange points (IXPs) in order to route Brazilians’ traffic away from potential interception. An IXP is a data switch that allows Internet users in the same area, like a small country or a large city, to connect directly with each other. This allows local network traffic to take shorter, faster paths between member networks.

Even Canada is ramping up its investment in critical Internet infrastructure. Because Canada only a few IXPs, much of the country’s domestic Internet traffic flows outside of the country before eventually reaching its destination. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) has embarked on a mission to increase the number of Internet exchange points in Canada to address this.

According to CIRA, “More exchange points would ensure that more Canadian traffic stays in Canada more of the time, resulting in a more robust, economical and better performing domestic Internet. It would also reduce the exposure of Canadian traffic to unreasonable surveillance by foreign government agencies.”

There are about 350 IXPs around the world and they have proven to be integral to the Internet infrastructure of many nations. The U.S. has about 85. The Caribbean has fewer than ten.

The Internet is vitally important to economic development and social well-being in the Caribbean. Securing Internet communications and investing in domestic critical Internet infrastructure should be a matter of national and regional priority.

The launch of Internet exchange points in countries like BVI, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, St Maarten, is an important milestone in the region’s efforts to facilitate the creation of a more secure, resilient and affordable domestic Internet for use. But it is only a start. The work continues across the region to ensure that all Caribbean countries have access to the same knowledge and facilities needed to realise the promise and benefits of the Internet.

Bevil Wooding is the Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN (www.congresswbn.org), a values-based international non-profit. He is also Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an education-technology non-profit (www.brightpathfoundation.org). Reach him on Twitter @bevilwooding or on facebook.com/bevilwooding or contact via email at technologymatters@brightpathfoundation.org.

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