As Brookings National Security expert Peter Singer explained at the recent Defence One Summit, Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks fall into three distinct categories:
1. Sensible espionage activities: “We spy on adversaries against us, so guess what, China, we really do spy on you.”
2. Questionable espionage activities: “We can have an argument over how much access to American citizens data, whether it’s legal or not, doing it from a foreign source or not.”
3. Stupid: “Spying on your allies and they now know about it.”
Now, leaving aside how NSA contractor Booz Allen allegedly “didn’t follow basic cyber security rules” (Snowden having unfettered access and other analysts giving him their passwords), Singer says there has been a battle over which leaks have gained the most attention.
“The problem is, we are mostly in the United States talking about category number 2, basically saying this is justifiable to stop 9/11,” Singer said. “But that doesn’t win back the Germans, saying this is to prepare for another 9/11 or there are dangers to the American power grids. That doesn’t win back the Germans particularly when your talking about tapping phones — there’s a history of phone taps in Germany.”
Thus one effect of the leaks is that several governments have sought to set up their own forms of the Internet. Not only would this give them more positive control over the flow of their citizens information, it could also serve as a tool to suppress their citizens, and it may even shape the face of the Internet as a whole.
Because of damage to their prestige these leaks have caused, the U.S. Government and private Internet companies may hesitate when it comes to construction and administration over the Web in the future. Singer says that hesitation could have dire consequences.
“The danger of this also is there are big issues happening in the Internet itself and the governing of the Internet, and frankly we’ve pulled back from that conversation,” said Singer. “There’s a real danger in the upcoming year that America keeps quiet because of the battle of narrative, and the Internet itself doesn’t look the same.”
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