NSA surveillance leaks damage Obama administration’s Internet freedom agenda

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Russia and China criticized the U.S. in the wake of the NSA leaks, which have complicated the U.S. government’s embattled Internet freedom agenda.

Often demonized by the West for the suppression of online content and actively spying on their citizens online, Russia and China rallied their allies at a UN-sponsored global telecom conference, the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), in Dubai in December 2012 to challenge the U.S.

The U.S. and its allies, on the other hand, roared into the conference openly opposing an agenda advocated by Russia and China to consolidate Internet governance issues under a U.N. agency, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The treaty negotiations at WCIT-12 broke down as the U.S.-led coaltion disparaged the conference’s outcome as political and diplomatic cover for the online suppression of domestic dissent.

After former NSA defense contractor Edward Snowden positioned himself as a champion of Internet freedom when he unveiled himself as the source of the NSA leaks, Russia and China wasted no time in criticizing the U.S. government for hypocrisy.

The two countries demanded an explanation from the U.S. about the unmasked surveillance and cybersecurity programs, having long sought to curb what they view as U.S. dominance over global Internet policy.

The American values of freedom of information and the right to privacy have dictated Internet norms since its inception, often clashing with non-Western values and styles of governance.

“The fact that the U.S. is doing so much spying and monitoring on its own citizens and on the entire world makes us seem like hypocrites when we go to the ITU and say that nobody should be spying on and monitoring their citizens,” Eli Durado, co-creator of the U.S.-based transparency site WCITLeaks, told The Daily Caller.

Having touted Internet freedom as a priority, the irony of Snowden’s odyssey to asylum in Ecuador is not lost on the Obama administration.

Snowden’s journey from Hong Kong to Russia has only increased tensions between the White House and its counterparts in Moscow and Beijing.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday that Snowden’s failure to “criticize these regimes suggests that his true motive throughout has been to injure the national security of the United States, not to advance Internet freedom and free speech.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, asking for Russia to be “calm” and hand over Snowden, openly mocked his route on Monday.

“I suppose there is no small irony here,” said Kerry during a news conference in New Dehli.

“I mean, I wonder if Mr. Snowden chose China and Russian assistance in his flight from justice because they’re such powerful bastions of Internet freedom, and I wonder if while he was in either of those countries he raised the question of Internet freedom, since that seems to be what he champions,” Kerry continued.

Russia, China and Snowden have all denied accusations of collaborating with one another over his escape from persecution by the Obama administration.

The next WCIT is not expected for another 25 years, but an upcoming ITU conference in November 2014 — hosted in South Korea — promises to be yet another arena for Russia and China to disrupt the current Internet governance model favored by the West.

Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell warned members of the U.S. Congress in February that the upcoming ITU conference would amount to a “constitutional convention” that would determine the ITU’s mission “for years to come.”

“The outcome of this massive treaty negotiation is uncertain, but the momentum favors those pushing for more Internet regulation,” warned McDowell.

Durado told The Daily Caller that the information recently revealed by the NSA surveillance scandal “definitely undermines” U.S. Internet freedom efforts.

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