State surveillance revelations: toward an InternetNZ position

Background 

Since June 2013, the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel have published a series of revelations that indicate government intelligence agencies have been collecting very large quantities of information from users of the Internet. These allegations have had wide coverage, and include suggestions that various Internet security protocols were weakened to allow easier intelligence gathering. 

Some of these allegations have been substantiated; others remain unverified assertions. Even given the lack of confirmation of many of the claims made, there are two immediately obvious and significant areas of concern for the Internet community: 

  • Security is about concerns that deliberate weakening of security protocols and placing backdoors into commonly used equipment exposes Internet users to third party risks in addition to surveillance by intelligence agencies. 
  • Privacy relates to the ideological (i.e. values-driven) and practical arguments that Internet communications should not be intercepted or read by third parties. 

InternetNZ has not expressed a position on either of these areas of concern. This paper starts a conversation about these two areas, and seeks the views of members about other areas for which positions need to be developed. It starts with a survey of some other organisations’ positions, then considers how InternetNZ might take a position of its own consistent with its principles. 

Other Organisations’ Positions

 Other Internet organisations have been taking public positions. The following are excerpts or summaries from published statements by the bodies concerned. 

La Quadrature du Net 

  • privacy is required for democracy – chilling effect of surveillance on political activity and whistleblowing 
  • big technology companies are colluding with the government (of US and EU), both want big data about individuals for different reasons
  • we should all use FOSS and decentralised services
  • we should pressure on politicians to end privacy invasions by governments and companies 

ISOC 

Let 2014 be the year that the global community unites to: 

  • confine the ambit of data collection for national security purposes to those truly exceptional instances where the public interest objectively outweighs an individual’s right to privacy; and 
  • agree a set of strong principles for ethical data handling in the national security community. 

EFF 

  • Active since 2005 trying to expose NSA surveillance. Involved in several legal actions. 
  • Quotes Schneier: It is sheer folly to believe that only the NSA can exploit the vulnerabilities they create 

I* Organisations Jointly 

  • Concern over undermining trust in Internet due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance. (Montevideo statement) 

In addition, the Open Rights Group, European Digital Rights Initiative and many other bodies are speaking out against global surveillance. 

InternetNZ Positions on Security and Privacy

As described above, InternetNZ may wish to form positions on both the security and the privacy effects of the revelations. When forming a position, InternetNZ is guided by its policy principles. The relevant ones to this matter are: 

1. The Internet should be open and uncaptureable. 

5. Human rights apply online. 

8. The Internet is nationally important infrastructure so it should be protected. 

Position on security

It can be strongly argued that the loss of confidence in the Internet due to ongoing revelations about mass surveillance and deliberate weakening of security protocols is a threat to the Internet’s usefulness as infrastructure, to the community of its users and represents a form of capture. 

Position on privacy

Privacy is a human right. In 1890 US Justice Brandeis famously referred to the “right to be let alone”. The UN Declaration on Human Rights written in 1948 includes a right to privacy. The laws of many countries including New Zealand provide a right to privacy, although it is important to recognise that these legal rights are generally tempered with an exception for national security purposes.

Other issues

A wide array of issues has been raised by the revelations to date. Some are of interest to InternetNZ as an organisation focused on Internet issues, while others are beyond the scope of the organisation. The two discussed above are important, but there may be others that InternetNZ should develop a position for.