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Tech and the State
The Consequences of the NSA Failure

In the wake of the NSA surveillance controversy, the Obama administration is privatizing part of the internet. It will be giving up state control of Icann, which assigns internet addresses. The privatization of Icann started back in 1997 but was put on hold after 9/11. The FT:

It has taken the outcry over internet surveillance to prompt the US finally to promise to give up its privileged role in overseeing the global internet, said Milton Mueller, a professor at Syracuse University who had proposed a way for the US to hand over its powers to an international body.

“The Snowden revelations had a lot to do with it, even though the NSA spying had nothing to do with Icann,” he said.

International anger over the revelations led to a call from a group of influential internet organisations last October for the US to step back from the internet addressing system.

The Obama administration undertook massive expansion of US spying without reviewing the weaknesses in the system that allowed people like Snowden and Manning to access extraordinary amounts of important data. It neglected to inform key allies (like Germany) about the nature of its program. It overreached by using a system whose only real justification was security against terror for other ends, apparently including information in such matters as trade negotiations. Now in an attempt to patch up relations, it is taking a step that has significant implications — without, one notes, feeling any need to get authorization from congress.

In itself, it’s possible that this step could work out well. We’ll have to see more of the details and observe how it plays out in practice to know whether the internet remains free and whether private actors prove less prone to abusing power than the US government. But to take a step like this because you’ve mishandled grave matters of alliance politics and national security is not a mark of success.

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  • pabarge

    Walter Russell Mead voted for Barack Obama.

    Never ever forget this.

    • crocodilechuck

      WRM: Everything Obama does is a sign of weakness.

    • Jim__L

      Once, but not twice.

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