[discuss] Snowden Revelations: What concrete activities were revealed that led us here?

Shatan, Gregory S. GShatan at ReedSmith.com
Thu Jan 16 06:22:51 UTC 2014


I have followed the Snowden revelations with interest and some diligence, but I can’t profess to know everything that has been revealed and reported on.  As a result of /1Net discussions, my interest has been piqued and I’ve been looking for the “smoking gun(s)” or “the scene of the [Internet] crime”: the explicit and specific acts by US surveillance (etc.) that were uniquely made possible by the United States’ current relationship to Internet governance, Internet infrastructure, ICANN, and/or IANA, etc.  I want to know what happened and I haven’t really been successful.

In other words, I would like to fill in the blanks in the following sentence: “Because of the United States’ unique ________________ [e.g., “relationship to”, ”control over”] ____________ [e.g., “the Root”, “ICANN”], _________________ [e.g., “the NSA”, “PRISM”, “US Cyber Command”] was able to do the following:___________________________________ [e.g., “access XYZ”, “intercept XYZ”, “read XYZ”].

Or, the corollary, “Solely due to stopping the US _____________________ and/or moving __________________, US surveillance agencies will no longer be able to__________________.”

So far, what I’ve found that’s concrete relates to the US working with private enterprises (no reason to name names here) to gain access to data.   But it appears that these “relationships” could (and probably do) happen in any country with significant private enterprises (and a governmental yen for surveillance), and it seems those “relationships” would exist in largely the same fashion even if the US had no “special” relationship to the Internet.  (Spies will be spies, after all, and IG isn’t going to stop them.)  So, this isn’t really what I’m looking for.

Of course, I’ve found a lot of higher level, abstract discussions that don’t tie back to any discrete, identifiable action that the US was able to take because of its position vis a vis the Internet.  Some of these are interesting and thought-provoking.  Then there are that say the connection between Snowden and the impetus for an IG shakeup is clear and obvious, but they don’t actually demonstrate the connection and seem to end up with more of a “guilt by association” argument.  And those that assume the connection or seem to be using Snowden as an excuse and quickly move on to next steps in shifting IG around.  There are even speculative arguments that the technology could have developed in a different way or would develop in a different way if the US/Internet relationship were different or nonexistent.  But these are also not what I’m looking for.

I am really looking for concrete technical exploits revealed by Snowden that were uniquely made possible by the way things work now with the US relationship to the Internet, and for citations to primary sources (or reliable secondary sources that quote or link to primary sources) that report/reveal those exploits.  To use a crude analogy (and with apologies to anybody who knows anything about technology) I want something like, “Because the cable company has located a mess of cables and boxes in my closet, I’m able to steal cable TV.  If they took that out of my closet, I wouldn’t get free cable anymore.  And here’s how I did it.”  I haven’t really found this yet.  What am I missing?

Some might say this is not an IG question.  I think it is (and perhaps you can indulge me if you disagree).  L’Affaire Snowden was a key driver to all that has happened since in IG.  We should know why and what are the concrete problems (if any) it showed us that we need to solve.  Though I may disagree to a greater or lesser extent, I understand the philosophical or political reasons why.  What I am keen to find out are the factual technical reasons why.

Apologies for asking such a long-winded question.  I look forward to the answers.

Greg Shatan

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