Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

NSA Leaks Could Inspire a Global Boom in Intrusive Surveillance

Governments already dabbling with authoritarian control of the Internet could be spurred on by learning of NSA surveillance.

  • November 12, 2013

Reports of the National Security agency’s surveillance programs based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden have been embarrassing for some, enraging to others. But to governments and security services in developing economies they will prove inspirational, according to a report (PDF) from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which studies online security and privacy.

The report warns that governments that already impose authoritarian controls on the Internet, such as China, India, and Saudi Arabia, may now seek to boost those efforts with NSA-style bulk collection programs that trample on civil liberties.

Ron Deibert, director of Citizen Lab, writes in the report that:

“No doubt one implication of Snowden’s revelations will be the spurring on of numerous national efforts to regain control of information infrastructures through national competitors to Google, Verizon, and other companies implicated, not to mention the development of national signals intelligence programs that attempt to duplicate the US model.”

Deibert says that many companies already face “complex” and “frustrating” requests from “newly emerging markets” for data on their users. He believes that the NSA revelations will cause those to become even more common, with unwelcome results.

“Many countries of the global South lack even basic safeguards and accountability mechanisms around the operations of security services, and their demands on the private sector could contribute to serious human rights violations and other forms of repression.”

India, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, for example, have already demanded that BlackBerry add interception technology to its services, notes Deibert. He says that insisting that companies add such “backdoors” to their services introduces serious security risks, because they could be discovered and abused by others.

Citizen Lab has evidence to back up that argument. In 2008, researchers in the group that the Chinese version of Skype, Tom-Skype, had been modified to help the Chinese government’s surveillance efforts. The program sent chat logs to a government server if certain keywords were typed, but that server was not password protected. Anyone could download millions of personal conversations collected by the authorities, which included credit-card numbers and other sensitive information.

Deibert doesn’t argue that security services should never access data held by Internet companies. But he maintains that can be done without hard-wiring backdoors into communications services. Rather he would prefer agencies to be restricted to requesting specific, limited information about certain accounts on a case-by-case basis, rather than harvesting bulk data for later processing as we have learned the NSA does.

Couldn't make it to EmTech Next to meet experts in AI, Robotics and the Economy?

Go behind the scenes and check out our video
More from Connectivity

What it means to be constantly connected with each other and vast sources of information.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.