A recent stream of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has shed light on an otherwise highly secretive world of cyber surveillance. Among the revelations — which include details on mass domestic intercepts and covert efforts to shape and weaken global encryption standards — perhaps the most important for the future of global cyberspace are those concerning the way the U.S. government compelled the secret cooperation of American telecommunications, Internet, and social media companies with signals intelligence programs.
For American citizens, the NSA story has touched off soul-searching discussions about the legality of mass surveillance programs, whether they violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and whether proper oversight and accountability exist to protect American citizens’ rights. But for the rest of the world, they lay bare an enormous “homefield advantage” enjoyed by the United States — a function of the fact that AT&T, Verizon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo!, and many other brand name giants are headquartered in the United States.
Prior to the Snowden revelations, global governance of cyberspace was already at a breaking point. The vast majority of Internet users — now and into the future — are coming from the world’s global South, from regions like Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Of the six billion mobile phones on the planet, four billion of them are already located in the developing world. Notably, many of the fastest rates of connectivity to cyberspace are among the world’s most fragile states and/or autocratic regimes, or in countries where religion plays a major role in public life. Meanwhile, countries like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, India, and others have been pushing for greater sovereign controls in cyberspace. While a US-led alliance of countries, known as the Freedom Online Coalition, was able to resist these pressures at the Dubai ITU summit and other forums like it, the Snowden revelations will certainly call into question the sincerity of this coalition. Already some world leaders, such as Brazil’s President Rousseff, have argued for a reordering of governance of global cyberspace away from U.S. controls.
For the fourth annual Cyber Dialogue, we are inviting a selected group of participants to address the question, “After Snowden, Whither Internet Freedom?” What are the likely reactions to the Snowden revelations going to be among countries of the global South? How will the Freedom Online Coalition respond? What is the future of the “multi-stakeholder” model of Internet governance? Does the “Internet Freedom” agenda still carry any legitimacy? What do we know about “other NSA’s” out there? What are the likely implications for rights, security, and openness in cyberspace of post-Snowden nationalization efforts, like those of Brazil’s?
As in previous Cyber Dialogues, participants will be drawn from a cross-section of government (including law enforcement, defence, and intelligence), the private sector, and civil society. In order to canvass worldwide reaction to the Snowden revelations, this year’s Cyber Dialogue will include an emphasis on thought leaders from the global South, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.