International partners should embrace a sort of “Law of the Sea” for the internet, the head of the United States National Security Agency now says, in order to keep the web open and safe from bad actors, state-sponsored or otherwise.
Speaking at a cyberwar conference in Estonia on Wednesday, NSA Director Mike Rogers told attendees that continuing management of an “open, reliable and safe” internet may be best achieved if global stakeholders look towards other areas, where widespread cooperation is required to keep operations afloat.
“I hope we do not find a world in which the internet becomes something that fractures and where the ability to move information freely is controlled,” Rogers said at the seventh Conference on Cyber Conflict, an annual event hosted by NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence.
“The seas around the world are, much like the cyber domain, not governed by one single nation. We have created maritime norms and have to do the same in the cyber space to ensure a flow of information and ideas,” Rogers said, adding, “I’d like to see if we can create something equivalent to the maritime world in the cyber world that enables us to keep moving information, keep moving commerce, keep moving ideas on a global basis.”
“Can we create a ‘global commons’, so to speak, that enables open, reliable, safe and resilient communications, a flow of information and ideas?” the spy chief added. “(This should be) in a framework that maximizes its use for all of us.”
Rogers’ remarks came just shy of the two-year anniversary concerning the publication of the first news articles to make use of leaked NSA documents to expose aspects of the agency’s previously secret surveillance operations. Since June 2013, classified files provided to the media by Edward Snowden, a former US government contractor, have detailed the NSA’s global eavesdropping efforts, including programs that opponents say have compromised core aspects of the internet.
“The issue is not that the NSA is spying on whoever the bad guy is who they want to spy on,” acclaimed cryptologist Bruce Schneier said previously of the agency’s effort. “The issue is that they are deliberately weakening the security of everyone else in the world in order to make that spying easier.”
Notwithstanding nearly two years of condemnation from international critics, Rogers reportedly urged attendees at this week’s event to work together with the US to adopt a system of governance that would keep the web as open as possible. Given revelations made possible by the Snowden trove, however, Rogers could encounter an uphill battle when trying to get international partners on the same page.
NSA disclosures have already led Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to call for a country-specific internet to avoid US surveillance, and some of America’s biggest tech companies, including Google and Apple, have announced plans to open new data centers abroad to ease foreign customers, who fear their information is falling into the hands of Uncle Sam.
Commenting to Reuters, Richard Hill, a former staff member of the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union, said the NSA chief’s remarks were “exactly contrary” to current US policy that puts America’s intentions above those of others.
On June 5, 2013, the Washington Post and the Guardian first reported that the NSA collects millions of telephone records in bulk on a regular basis, regardless of whether that data pertains to individuals suspected of any criminal activity. After nearly two years of debate, the Patriot Act provision that supposedly authorized the NSA to collect call records, Section 215, is set to expire at the end of this month.