Brazil sees internet superhighway without US patrols

Robert Bridge
Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. He is author of the book, 'Midnight in the American Empire,' released in 2013. robertvbridge@yahoo.com
Brazil sees internet superhighway without US patrols
Despite the proven efficacy of the NSA’s hoovering abilities – which is sucking up information on friends and enemies alike without impartiality – only one country, Brazil, has taken the bold step of distancing itself from the ‘US-centric Internet.’

Following shocking revelations that the National Security Agency had gained access to the emails and telephone calls of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, as well as her top advisors, Rousseff cancelled next month’s meeting in Washington, where she was to be feted with a state dinner.

Now the feisty Brazilian leader, who is reportedly ”furious” over allegations of widespread NSA spying on South America’s largest economy, has a bold dream to end Brazil’s relationship with the US-centric internet. 

Rousseff seems justified in taking action: More than 80 percent of Brazil’s online searches, for example, go to US-based companies, while most of its internet traffic passes through the all-seeing, all-powerful gatekeeper of the NSA, which has proven to be a less-than-trusting partner. But is it possible for a country to fully disconnect itself from the global Goliath of international communications? 

Rousseff's government has ambitious plans - an electronic version of the Great Wall - for linking Brazil directly to Europe via an underwater fiber optic cable, thus bypassing the aggressively nosey NSA. 

"Brazil intends to increase its independent internet connections with other countries," Rousseff's office said, as quoted by the Associated Press.

It also mentioned a "common understanding" between Brazil and the EU on issues involving data privacy, and said "negotiations are underway in South America for the deployment of land connections between all nations." Besides, it plans to increase investment in home-grown technology and invest in software that meets government regulations.

Brazil is going to begin investigating telecommunication companies to see if they were involved in sharing customer data with the NSA.

AFP Photo

Will the world follow Brazil’s suit?

NSA’s Prism surveillance program (Prism collects internet communications with the cooperation of major internet companies, including Google, Yahoo and Skype under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008), which was dragged screaming and kicking into the light of day by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, has made a mockery of computer firewalls around the world for many years now. 

The massive sucking sound being heard around the planet represents vast amounts of personal data being hoarded away in the United States, and for what ulterior motive nobody really knows. But we can venture some wild guesses. 

In the best case scenario, the information that is being collected without our approval is being used to fight terrorism and we are all the safer for it, privacy be damned. In the worst case scenario, the information will come in handy in the future when some person (you, me?) needs reminding of a a particularly unsavory communication in order to get him or her to do something they would not normally do otherwise. In other words, we are talking about simple extortion. After all, information, as we are constantly reminded, is power.

The sheer quantity of communications accessible through NSA intercepts boggles the mind.

As reported by Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who broke the Snowden story, one NSA report from 2007 estimated that there were 850bn “call events” collected and stored, and some 150bn internet records. Each day, the document revealed, 1-2 billion records were added.

Strangely, however, long-term allies of the United States seem most vulnerable to these gross invasions of privacy.

Der Spiegel sparked outrage in Germany when it reported in June that the US spy agency was collecting 500 million communications in the county – each month.

“Internal NSA statistics indicate that the agency stores data from around half a billion communications connections in Germany each month,” the German weekly reported. “This data includes telephone calls, emails, mobile-phone text messages and chat transcripts. The metadata - or information about which call or data connections were made and when - is then stored at the NSA's headquarters in Fort Meade, near Washington, DC.”

The article revealed that Germany is being spied on by US authorities with just as much zest and zeal as China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Yet Article 10 of the German constitution guarantees the right of citizens to privacy – no surveillance of any person or institution is permissible without court-sanctioned approval.

Germany, which even forbade the Google map cars from photographing its buildings and streets, doesn’t seem inclined to dismiss the spying scandal any time soon.

On Sept. 7, thousands of people took to the streets of Berlin to protest against NSA surveillance activities and fight for their right to privacy. Demonstrators carried banners which read, “Stop spying on us,” along with the phrases “NSA killed by internet” and “Thanks to PRISM the government finally knows what the people want.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (AFP Photo)

Meanwhile, about two dozen authors plan a march to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s residence on Wednesday to hand over the signatures of the 65,000 German citizens who have signed an open letter, published in July by the novelist Juli Zeh, which describes the NSA mass surveillance program as "a historic attack … on the innocent until proven guilty principle". (now a petition at Change.org).

One German blogger forwarded the question“what is (Angela Merkel) afraid of?”

Could the chancellor’s fears be connected to allegations that German telecommunication companies were actually involved in the data mining system, as has been alleged, collecting information on German citizens on behalf of the US spy agency?

Whatever the case may be, Berlin is not taking the news of NSA naughty behavior sitting down.

In an episode straight out of the Cold War period, the archetype villains traded places and America – gasp, not Russia! - was under the cold spotlight of German angst.

German officials confirmed (Sept. 9) that a Federal police helicopter had conducted a low-altitude flyover of the US Consulate in Frankfurt in order to take high-resolution photographs of the premises. The apparent objective of the mission: identify suspected listening posts on the roof of the consulate. "Yes, the times they are a changing."

NSA diagrams leaked by Snowden and published by journalist Glenn Greenwald in Brazil’s O Globo newspaper reveal a network of US and allied signals intelligence collection sites around the globe that contribute to interception of telecommunications and internet traffic, codenamed X-Keyscore.

The documents published by O Globo show that US communication collection facilities are distributed worldwide, located at US military facilities, as well as US embassies and consulates.

Indeed, Der Spiegel reported that the NSA spied on the internal communications of France’s Foreign Ministry in 2010, as well as those of the Qatar-based television station Al-Jazeera. 

So why aren’t Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande protesting outside the US Consulate, demanding the Americans “tear down this oppressive system” and rebuild trust.

In fact, a global case could be built against the United States, guilty as it is of spying on the diplomatic missions of “38 US allies,” which include the 27 member EU, plus South Korea, Turkey, Japan and Mexico, as well as Middle Eastern states. 

It is surprising, given this practically pathological display of American snooping, that only the Brazilian president has taken decisive steps from freeing itself from the 'supercop of the superhighway'. Rousseff should be applauded, if not emulated.

Robert Bridge, RT

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.