Robin: My fist question is, “What does the Internet Society do?” and then we will talk about circumvention of encryption.
Paul: Great. Robin, thanks for having me on your broadcast. It is just wonderful to be here. I have to say though while we are involved in internet technology standards, we definitely don’t control the internet engineering taskforce. So I want to make that clear.
Robin: Nobody does.
Paul: Exactly. So we are the organizational home of the internet engineering taskforce and that is one of our key functions. We also work on internet development and emerging economies, particularly in Africa, we are working on internet exchanges there. We work on internet policy as well. So we have a public policy group based in Geneva that is tracking very closely all the activities related to the ITU and governments’ attempts to come in and try to regulate the internet in ways that are definitely not in line with the way the internet was developed and would potentially cause harm there. So yes, that is just a little overview of what we do.
Robin: And right now, earlier this month, it seems to me the United States government put out something, or we learned rather, because I think they have been doing it for a long time, has been trying to circumvent encryption and pry into everybody’s deep dark secrets. And from what I have been reading, the Internet Society doesn’t like this.
Paul: It is really not exactly clear what all the government has been doing. I think we are learning more every day. But what we are very concerned about is making sure that there is trust in the internet so that people can go online and do their business, have their conversations, have private conversations and know that that they are private, because if there is not trust in the internet then governments around the world will begin to lock down the internet, and potentially balkanize the internet.
And we are just seeing a few notes over the past couple of days where countries like Brazil, China, Russia and India and others are very much interested in keeping traffic away from the United States, and while you cannot blame them for having that sentiment based on some of the recent revelations, it is not the way the internet was designed to work. You want to be able to have consistent as much as possible regulations around the world for the internet. So that wherever I happen to be I can have an innovative web service, I can host it wherever I am, and it will be welcome and be usable anywhere across the Internet. And if we get into a situation where countries begin to balkanize and have very different regulations, that innovation will be stymied.
And that is our concern. We as the Internet Society, we are a global organization, and while we might have our headquarters in DC and Geneva, we have offices all over the world, and we encourage everyone to participate. In fact, our mantra is:The internet is for everyone. So yeah, this has been quite a dilemma and we are working hard to make sure policy makers understand that breaking down the trust that people have in the internet is a really bad idea and it is going to backfire, while it may seem like it is a good idea to capture intelligence on the Internet, and I can understand wanting to do that, people still like to have trust. And there needs to be some transparency.
Robin: Which is worse? The spying on people, seeing what we are saying, or just plain blocking it? Because I have also been to Saudi Arabia and I have sat on cushions on the floor of course, in the office of the man who controls the Saudi One Access Point Internet, where they have just one pipe in and out of the country, and you might go to the page let’s say for the Israeli Defense Force, and you won’t see it, you will see a note that says translated: The religious police have decided this is un-Islamic matter on this site, so you can’t see it. What about that? Which is worse, eavesdropping or censorship?
Paul: You know, it is a very hard choice. In some countries, I think it would probably rather be blocked for sure there is just no good answer to that. There is no good choice there. In either case, there is the potential for people’s privacy being stolen and things that they say being taken out of context, and it is just not an environment that is sustainable for the internet.
Robin: Okay, let’s assume that we are ordinary people or businesses in the United States of America, waving our little red, white and blue flags, what can we do to have less censorship and less eavesdropping – what can we do about it?
Paul: Well, the agencies that are responsible for the US security do have a job to do, they do need to do some spying activities I suppose, that’s why they exist, right? So I think you have to have a balance somehow where there can be enough transparency and enough trust that the rule of law is actually being applied. So I think a lot of what was the big concern in the US is that many of these decisions were made where it just wasn’t clear that courts were looking at these situations in an environment where you would have that traditional balance where you would have a conflict that could be resolved in the open, because it was all behind closed doors and there really wasn’t a public advocate there making sure that that view was represented in these discussions.
So I think these agencies are going to continue to exist, they probably have to continue to exist for national security, but just the way they go about doing what they do has to change I believe, and hopefully they are getting that message. You know, from a business perspective, like you mentioned, I think we are beginning to see some of the business leaders talk about this issue. I think that in the headlines just recently we’ve had Mark Zuckerberg come out and I think his quote was that US government blew it.
And so I think many people share that sentiment. And hopefully they are going to learn. I know that the administration has special working groups that are reporting directly to the president I believe, trying to get that perspective in, I know that CDT the Center for Democracy and Technology is involved and they have some very bright people, who are working in that working group. So nothing with the government happens overnight. But I do hope that there will be some positive changes here, and I have some hope that it will happen.
Robin: Thinking of Zuckerberg, a lot of people thought his coming down on the government for eavesdropping was kind of amusing, because Facebook, and of course, we all know that Google is doing evil, aha, and I say this as somebody, I am a devoted Google Drive and email and whatnot fan, and I use them like mad.
Paul: Great products.
Robin: Great products, worked for me. I don’t worry about it. Should I worry more?
Paul: Well, we have a privacy and identity team that looks at these issues very closely. And I think, it is hard for me to speak for them, because this is not exactly my specialty and they are really deep into the technologies here, but my understanding from what they have told me is that yes, you should be worried more. And that you should think about ways where mechanisms, technical mechanisms to ensure that you are not being tracked and that you understand the deal that you are making with these companies when they take that data, and understand what data that they are taking. I think that that’s the key issue for the Internet Society, is that you are inherently making a bargain with these companies, when you conduct service with them, you are giving them the data in return for these great services, but not everyone really understands what all they are giving up. And we do our best to help people to try to understand and then give them tools to limit the sharing of that information if they don’t want to. So we have a whole group, Lucy Lynch is one of the best experts in the world on these topics, leads our group for us and they are doing some good work in that area.
Robin: Can you give me any suggestions as to what an individual or a small business can do on their own behalf?
Paul: I would have to direct you to we have an area on our website that gives a lot of resources for this, a lot of education resources, and specifically it gives you some tools, plug-ins that we have worked with others to develop that will let you know what information is being collected. So I think that would be a good first step. Look for those trusted resources. The Internet Society is a trusted resource, a global nonprofit organization set up by the guys who created the internet. And we are working for the benefit of the internet, to make it sustainable, and we are definitely not working for any one of these companies that collect the data. So you should look for organizations like ours. CDT would also be a good one. And others.
Robin: And what about joining the Internet Society? What about getting in there and helping? Are there opportunities for us to, well, first of all, to join, we know that, it costs nothing, I am a member, have been for years, and you out there, listening and watching this, you should be too, right?
Paul: Definitely, you should be. You know, it is easy to join. When you join, one of the biggest benefits you get is just periodic emails that give you some information about what’s happening in the internet community. We have events all over the world, and almost all of these events are webcast, so no matter your nationality wherever you happen to be, you have the opportunity to tune into these events, we’ve already had one of them this year on cyber security and privacy and trust issues – that was in Washington DC just a couple of months ago, but we’ve got another one that’s coming up just in a few days, October 2nd and that is in San Francisco it is going to be at CNET’s headquarters. And that’s being organized by our chapter there, the San Francisco Bay Area chapter. So when you think about getting involved, there are chapters around the world, where you can connect with individuals with shared values, and they are also out there working to make the internet work better, and then bring together good discussions like this on very relevant topics that are key to the internet’s success.
Robin: So right now and I think I do have a link to it in the intro text to this little video. You should be alert for the October 2nd webcast if you are not in the San Francisco area. And you might want to tune in on that and see what’s going on and see what you can do with the tools that the Internet Society has developed and how you might even help develop more tools. Right?
Paul: Definitely, lots of opportunities.