Expert: US ‘Benign Dictatorship’ Of The Net Is Over; Age Of Encryption Begins

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Cypto-guru Bruce Schneier, who has analysed thousands of documents provided by Edward Snowden on the secret surveillance programmes of the US National Security Agency, has called on the technical community to add encryption to the network and also come up with a new model for internet governance.

“The internet has largely been run as the ‘United States Benign Dictatorship’ because everyone kind of believed the United States was acting in the world’s best interest,” Schneier said yesterday at the 88th meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in Vancouver, Canada. “That’s over.”

Schneier, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, said that more revelations about spy programmes are yet to come. (See Schneier’s blog here.)

IETF Area Director Stephen Farrell said the technical community should handle this as an attack on the security of the systems and answer accordingly. (For an overview on given during the IETF meeting by Dave Thaler see here [pdf].)

In a rare expression of political conviction, the plenary of the engineers unanimously agreed to take the “new threat model” into consideration when standardising protocols. (For the consensus “hums” see here.)

Some participants warned afterwards that putting the belief into practice could be a lot more contentious. More encryption for a variety of protocols, including the web protocol (http) and the more difficult to protect email protocol (SMTP) were discussed by working groups at the Vancouver meeting.  (See IETF blogpost here. )

Ubiquitious encryption on the internet backbone would do “enormous good,” said Scheier, adding, “Encryption will force the NSA to go after only high-value targets.”

A more long-term goal, Schneier told the engineers, is to promote the understanding that a “secure internet is in everyone’s best interest.” Without a broad consensus on this, he said, there will be no political solutions.

Monika Ermert may be reached at

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