'It's an ill bird," runs the adage, "that fouls its own nest." Cue the
Which providers? Why, the big US internet companies that have hitherto dominated the market for cloud services - a market set to double in size to
The second own goal (or unintended consequence, to give it its technical name) came from the revelation that the NSA had cracked or circumvented the encryption systems used by internet companies, banks and other organisations to persuade consumers that online transactions could be confidential and secure. Given that one of the great triumphs of the industry had been to persuade initially sceptical users that it was safe to conduct transactions online, this was a staggering revelation, the implications of which will be very far-reaching. And it brought to mind a conversation I had last year with a fairly senior executive of a major internet company, who casually mentioned that his organisation's head of security "wouldn't dream of using online banking". I thought it was amusing at the time and filed it away as a curiosity: geeks, after all, are notoriously paranoid about these things. Now I wish I had been more perceptive.
But, in a way, even more disturbing was the realisation that the NSA seems to have covertly suborned the process by which encryption standards are set by the supposedly independent
I'll bet it was. Technical standards are to networking as oxygen is to life. And, broadly speaking, the way they are shaped has always been co-operative and open. In the internet world, for example, it's done by groups of engineers with specialist expertise in a particular area who gather to hammer out, by a process of open discussion, successive versions of a protocol until they converge on something that is agreed to be workable. "We believe," one of the pioneers of the process wrote, "in rough consensus and running code." But at the heart of the process is the assumption that everyone participating - whether from companies or academia - is working in the public interest rather than trying to advance the narrower interests of their organisation.
That's why the discovery that the NSA abused that kind of trust is so depressing. And, in a way, it represents the biggest own goal of all, because it fatally undermines one of the fundamental tenets of US foreign policy, namely that governance of the internet is best left in American hands. As the net became increasingly global, this was already looking like a threadbare proposition. The NSA has ensured that it is now untenable.
Which brings us back to birds and their nests. I forgot to mention that of course the official seal of the US president is. . . an eagle.
THE TRUTH UNMASKED The NSA's activities, revealed by Edward Snowden, are a massive blow for US computer businesses. Photograph
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