Balkanization of the Internet: Brazil’s Response to the NSA

“To extricate” Brazil from the reach of the NSA and American technology giants, Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, has proposed doing the following:

constructing submarine cables that do not route through the US, building internet exchange points in Brazil, creating an encrypted email service through the state postal service and having Facebook, Google and other companies store data by Brazilians on servers in Brazil.

To protect its population and its government, all countries may have no choice but to follow Brazil’s lead: control all points of Internet entry and exit, as well as insist that any data stored by any foreign company be under its control.

What Brazil is doing makes perfect sense.  But how can Brazil protect its inter-country communications, if those communications must, of necessity, pass through NSA hands? A giant Brazilian company runs a mine in Sudbury, ONT.  (Sometimes, the relationship between Canadians and Vale, the Brazilian company, are a bit…rocky.  If that relationship becomes too dicey, Canada, which is very cozy with the NSA, may well take a peek at any Vale communications leaving Canada for Brazil. Or maybe a competitor with NSA connections wants to take a peak.)

If the answer is a Brazilian mail carrier, say goodbye to any global mailing system. Microsoft Outlook? Gone.  Google’s Gmail? Gone. Every country will have its own mail carrier.  China will have its mail server.  Russia will have its mail server.  We will have to work out how those hundreds of mail servers communicate. 

Let’s look again at the Vale problem.  When Vale communicates with its main office in Brazil, it will use a Brazilian mail server.  But, it it wishes to have mail inside Canada, it may have to use a Canadian mail server, NSA approved.  It does get confusing.  Of course, U.S. companies in Brazil will have a similar difficulty. Despite how rapacious commercial competors may be, some level of trust is important. You have to trust the mail and the phone.

And Google?  Sorry, Google, you have to keep servers in every country totally dedicated to the populace of that country.  Will that cause problems?  You bet.  Problems here seem to bubble to the surface as well.  Perhaps very large countries will chose to have their own search engines. 

And all this talk about Cloud computing which could make the Internet much more efficient….not happening. Companies will have their own clouds; countries will have bigger clouds.  I will keep to my own little cloud, as porous as it is.  

The NSA and its partners in crime–Britain’s GCHQ, for example–monitor more and more of world’s Internet traffic.  Such monitoring is bound to have a deleterious effect on trade, on banking, on medicine, on science…on all sensitive communications that cross country lines.  For those who think that encryption is the answer, think carefully.  An algorithm controls encryption production.  Suppose that algorithm could be modified slightly to create an encrytpion that could be broken.  Right now there is a lot of informed Internet chatter about encryption being compromised.  (I do not know how correct that chatter is; I suspect that few can authoritatively talk about it.  What the chatter does is to raise again the question of trust, trust which the NSA has destroyed.) 

What the NSA in its enormous stupidity and arrogance has done–under the guidance of Republican Bush and Democrat Obama–is to destroy the very essence of productive globalization. How will companies protect trade secrets or vital information that must move from one country to another? How will banks send information securely across country lines? So many problems are now in play…all because someone thought he had the right to know everything. 

The Internet may became an unworkable muddle. The NSA never gave a thought to the consequences of what it did.  Neither did Bush–and certainly neither did Obama.  Children with a big, powerful toy, a toy they are breaking. 

There may be an even deeper problem, I suspect.  It is quite possible to compromise not only operating systems but also computer flash memory in firmware.   If Brazil cannot trust an American Operating System–Microsoft–or an American firmware manufacturer…what then? Clearly no country can allow another country to spy willy nilly on its populace.  (Well, Canada–where I live–has uttered barely a peep of protest. ) 

Know that every company, every bank, every hospital, every embassy, every political party everywhere is now talking about how to have safe and secure communications. Companies hired specialists to oversee their network and Internet security. What are those specialist and companies going to do now when they have to combat the power of the NSA and GCHQ–and whatever spying machine China is working on…or Russia (which I hear is going to typewriters)?

What should the United States and Britain have done? 

The United States should have made the Internet as secure as possible, secure from crooks and hackers and warmongers; efficient and trustworthy.   The United States should have made it impossible for any country to attack nuclear power plants of another via the Internet.  The United States should have promoted freedom and democracy, not smothered it. The United States should have made the Internet an arsenal of democracy, not a weapon for tyrants. 

The Internet was built on Trust.  Internet companies told us repeatedly to trust them.  Their words are increasingly hollow.  And they know it.  Now they are pushing the courts to allow them to speak openly.  A bit late.  The glimmer of coin was too strong to resist. They would have done better to stand up to Obama’s silliness.  He has created an unbelievable mess. 

The United States has violated everyone’s trust. 

When the United States decided to use the Internet as an act of aggression–in short, of war–, it turned what could have been a global blessing into a dangerous weapon.   Aggression only encourages retaliation.  Put a lock on this weapon.  Make it as safe as possible.  Otherwise, who knows what awful deviltry you will ultimately unleash.  We are running out of time. 

Those who thought that Dilma Rousseff was just saving face in not accepting an Obama dinner invitation should now realize how much an affront the global spying is.  They thought that whatever the United States did, others would simply applaud. They are the worst elements of the press corps, assuming that whatever the U.S. wants, it gets.  And, they would argue, what it wants, it deserves. 

Like it or not, Snowden has made quite a splash.  Personally, I prefer Snowden’s vision to Obama’s.

Your move, Mr. President.