More NSA Spying Fallout: Brazilian President Snubs Obama Invitation, May Trigger Internet Balkanization
from the this-is-getting-serious dept
A couple of weeks ago, Techdirt noted that the Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, was angry that the NSA had been reading her private emails and text messages, and that as a result she was contemplating cancelling an imminent high-profile state visit to the US. That was before the recent revelations that the NSA had also engaged in industrial espionage at the biggest Brazilian company, Petrobras, which seems to have been the final straw: Rousseff has now formally "postponed" her trip to the US, according to the Brazilian news site O Globo (original in Portuguese.)
Despite the framing that this is merely a "postponement" until the US has provided satisfactory explanations of the NSA's behavior, it's a real slap in the face for President Obama -- in the past, no national leader would dream of snubbing the US in this way -- and a measure of how seriously the NSA's activities are affecting US standing in the world. But this is not just about symbolic actions like cancelling high-level meetings: there are also likely to be longer-term repercussions for both US companies and the whole Internet.
For example, Rousseff is making a speech next week at the opening session of the UN General Assembly in New York. According to O Globo, she will raise the issue of American spying there, and call for a ban on espionage conducted by means of the Internet. Meanwhile, an Associated Press story published by the Washington Post has some details of other actions that Rousseff intends to take in an effort to protect Brazilians from online snooping in the future:
Most of Brazil's global Internet traffic passes through the United States, so Rousseff's government plans to lay underwater fiber optic cable directly to Europe and also link to all South American nations to create what it hopes will be a network free of U.S. eavesdropping.
Of course, the problem is that then it will be the UK's GCHQ and other European agencies that start spying on Brazilian traffic, rather than the NSA. Here's another idea that the President of Brazil wants to see realised:
Rousseff is urging Brazil's Congress to compel Facebook, Google and all companies to store data generated by Brazilians on servers physically located inside Brazil in order to shield it from the NSA.
Whether or not that helps to secure the personal data of Brazilians, such a move will almost certainly increase the costs for US Internet companies operating in Brazil -- more bad news for them, all thanks to the NSA. But there may be even worse in store for the Internet as a whole, as the AP article points out:
If that happens, and other nations follow suit, Silicon Valley's bottom line could be hit by lost business and higher operating costs: Brazilians rank No. 3 on Facebook and No. 2 on Twitter and YouTube.
The effort by Latin America's biggest economy to digitally isolate itself from U.S. spying not only could be costly and difficult, it could encourage repressive governments to seek greater technical control over the Internet to crush free expression at home, experts say.
This is just what many people feared: that the leaks about the NSA's massive surveillance activities around the world -- including economic espionage -- will provide the pretext repressive regimes need in order to take complete technical control of the Internet in their countries, rather than continuing to acquiesce in its global governance, as at present. And so all the efforts by Western countries at the recent World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) to stop precisely that kind of balkanization will have been in vain.