In response to NSA revelations, the internet’s engineers set out to PRISM-proof the net

28.10.2013 - Radio Netherlands

In response to NSA revelations, the internet’s engineers set out to PRISM-proof the net
(Image by Photo: RNW)

By Julie Blussé (CC) for Radio Netherlands

Greatly disturbed by the recent revelations of mass internet surveillance, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) have announced plans to ramp up online security. You may never have heard of them, but the IETF are the creators and engineers of the internet’s architecture. Is there a technical solution to the problem of mass surveillance?

For the IETF, Edward Snowden’s revelations were “a wake-up call,” said Jari Arkko, the task force’s chair. Arkko spoke at this week’s UN-initiated Internet Governance Forum in Bali, Indonesia. Surprised by the scale and tactics of surveillance, Arkko stated the engineers are “looking at technical changes that will raise the bar for monitoring.”

“Perhaps the notion that internet is by default insecure needs to change,” he said. The IETF’s will is there, and Arkko believes significant technical fixes  “just might be possible.”

Technical, not political

The engineers of the IETF keep a low profile, but they have been crucial to creating and setting the standards on which the internet was built, ever since its birth in 1969. They have developed email, instant messaging, and many protocols that hide behind acronyms that sound familiar yet mysterious to most Internet users, like HTTP and TCP/IP.

As the internet evolved from an academic project into a global network, the role governments and companies played in how it functions grew dramatically. But the IETF maintained its well-respected role, thanks in part to its fervently apolitical stance and focus on technical issues.

That focus remains in the current plans to make the internet more resistant to mass surveillance, Arkko emphasised in an interview with RNW: “This is a technical, not a political decision.”

In his speech, Arkko chose his words carefully as he addressed an audience comprising representatives from governments that perpetrate the same mass-surveillance he hopes to curtail.

 

Categories: Europe, International issues, Science and Technology
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