Recommended Readings for CIC-Toronto Conference: The Electronic Surveillance State – Panel Three: The Question of Reform

This blog post is the final of three posts for our series of recommended readings for our upcoming conference, The Electronic Surveillance State: Canada’s role, global implications, and the question of reform. This blog is dedicated to our third panel, on the Question of Reform. While much of the focus from the NSA surveillance scandal has been focused on what the NSA is currently doing, our final panel will switch the focus to what should the intelligence agencies be allowed to do considering the recent unprecedented technological advancements and government’s access to big data. Many governments have so far been unable, or unwilling, to effectively curtail their spy agencies. Policy needs to be updated to more accurately reflect our current technological capabilities.

Our first reading comes from the White House Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies. The Review Group was created by President Obama and the Group produced the report titled “Liberty and Security in a Changing World: Report and Recommendations of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.” The recommendations are ” designed to protect our national security and advance our foreign policy” while ensuring a lasting “commitment to privacy and civil liberties… reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosures.”

While the review group was created in response to the Snowden scandal and the “disclosures of classified information involving foreign intelligence collection by the National Security Agency,” the focus of the report is broader in its scope. The recommendations will ideally serve as the beginning of “sturdy foundations for the future, safeguarding… liberty and security in a rapidly changing world.” These changes have “implications for the right of privacy, our strategic relationships with other nations, and the levels of innovation and information-sharing that underpin key elements of the global economy.”

The Review Group illuminates the challenges of having “multiple and often competing goals” when it comes to security and ensuring a free republic. The goals delineated by the group are: “protecting the nation against threats to our national security; promoting other national security and foreign policy interests; protecting the right to privacy; protecting democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law; promoting prosperity, security, and openness in a networked world; and protecting strategic alliances.” The Report follows with forty-six recommendations for the government to better protect the country from foreign terrorist threats, while ensuring the protection of civil liberties and privacy of its people.

The second and final reading is an Internet Governance Paper produced by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), titled “Reimagining the Internet: the Need for a High-Level Strategic Vision for Internet Governance.” Written by two CIGI fellows, Mark Raymond and Gordon Smith, the paper states that with the Internet’s increase in relevance and prevalence for global public policy, there has been an increase in concerned parties, especially from emerging market states, with their “distinct values” and visions for Internet governance.

Raymond and Smith argue that ” the contemporary politics of Internet governance are best understood as a complex, high-stakes case of rule-making.” With a varied group of actors, bringing with them diverging views, Internet governance becomes highly complicated and understanding the process becomes increasingly difficult. However, the authors share two key insights into the process: “First, the Internet is not governed by a single set of rules” and therefore the idea that the “Internet is a commons” should be swept aside “in favour of the image of a series of overlapping voluntary and involuntary groupings governed by multiple sets of rules.” Raymond and Smith’s second insight is that “openness to employing informal rules and soft law instruments offers advantages in allowing policy makers time to learn about the implications of alternative rules for Internet governance and in allowing procedural flexibility.”

The authors end with a call for a “high-level strategic vision for Internet governance.” As a complementary companion to our first reading’s recommendations, the CIGI fellows offer us their proposal for the future of Internet governance, summed up as a “comprehensive, research-based vision for Internet governance.”



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