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The Standards Game

Snowden and Standards

Posted by Karen B on March 11th, 2014

No matter what you think about Edward Snowden – sinner, saint, or something else – he had some interesting things to say yesterday at the SXSW interactive festival. He broadcasted live from Russia via Google+ Hangout into several large halls in the Austin Convention Center which were packed with thousands of people. The session was sponsored by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), and the discussion included two gentlemen from the ACLU, Ben Wizner and Chris Soghoian.

What caught my attention most was the mention of technical standards. When Snowden was asked why he was speaking to the technology community, not the policy makers, he said that technologists can enforce our rights for technical standards.

There were several references to the “back door” that the NSA allegedly put into encryption standards, and that mass surveillance is occurring in other countries too, not just the U.S. The issue of privacy and security is a global issue. Snowden said these governments “are setting fire to the future of the Internet”. And the issue is one that technologists can help to address. “The people who are in this room now, you guys, are all the firefighters and we need you to help us fix this,” he stated.

Snowden postulated that mass surveillance can be made so expensive as to be undesirable – through changes in technical standards. It was a call to action when he talked about the commitments we can make today to “protect and enforce our liberties through technical standards to allow us to reclaim the open and trusted”.

One of the initiatives that I am becoming involved in with the IEEE is to rebuild trust in the Internet. Without an open and trusted Internet, the future of technology and humanity will not be what we hope for nor expect. I invite you to join me as the IEEE Internet Initiative takes shape.

Here is the recording of the SXSW broadcast:

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