Perhaps no country in the world has been as vocal about doing something about NSA’s global Internet surveillance reach as Brazil.
As one of the fastest-growing major economies in the world that is currently the largest of the Latin American nations and sixth globally, the country and its leadership feels understandably secure in its capabilities, power and influence despite recent struggles.
The revelations that the US has been spying on a number of Latin American countries (including Brazil) in search for military, politic but also trade secrets have pushed the country’s leaders to the edge, and the disclosure that the NSA has intercepted phone calls and emails of the current Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, her advisors, and the state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro as well as Google Brazil, has pushed them over it.
Rousseff herself took the stage at a recent UN General Assembly and protested against this “global network of electronic espionage” and called for the creation of an international framework governing Internet use and communications. She also protested by canceling (“postponing”) a scheduled dinner with US president Obama.
Still, Rousseff, the Brazillian government and Congress are not waiting for US legislators, the UN or the world to do something about the problem. They have already moved to change legislations to protect themselves and the country’s citizens, as well as announced a plan to break the country’s dependence on a US-centric Internet.
Brazil currently has the fastest growing Internet bandwidth in the world, and legions of citizens on the Internet (and on Facebook, Twitter, using Google’s offerings, etc.), but most of the Internet traffic to Brazil and other South American countries passes through a single building in Miami.
Rousseff’s Worker’s Party is already working on legislation that would require big Internet companies such as those mentioned above to house data of Brazilian citizens on servers located inside the country – or face a ban.
Whether such a demand can or cannot be met without doing serious financial damage to the companies involved or without additional problems remains to be seen, but Rousseff does not intend to stop there.
According to the AP, the president intends to “boost investment in home-grown technology and buy only software and hardware that meet government data privacy specifications,” ” to build more Internet exchange points”, and “to increase its independent internet connections with other countries” by laying down undersea fiber optic cables to Europe and Africa, as well as connect South American countries with them, in order to bypass the US altogether and minimize the possibility of Internet traffic being intercepted by the NSA.
Some experts are skeptical about whether these steps will allow Brazil to achieve its goal, and whether the cost for US Internet companies catering to Brazilian citizens will prove too big with the new legislation in place. As Chris Soghoian has already noted, the US has a nuclear submarine dedicated to tapping undersea internet cables, and is perfectly capable of hacking into foreign government networks.
Nevertheless, the Brazilian government is not backing down. In fact, as the secretary of state of telecommunication Maximiliano Martinhao has shared with Deutsche Welle, “preparations are already completed for the so-called Optical Ring, which will join twelve South American countries with each other, as well as with Europe and Africa.” The laying of the cables is scheduled for the beginning of 2014.