Many of our political customers in Europe are having their conferences this month, so last night I headed to LAX to hop on a red eye to London. It wasn’t until I was on the shuttle from parking lot C that I realized my passport had expired. Which is how I ended up at the Passport Agency office at the State Department in Westwood early this morning.
Today is 9/11. After walking past the Homeland Security van parked outside, through the metal detectors, and into the DMV-style waiting room, I sat down to wait for my number to be called. Instead of numbers, I heard names. One name after another coming from the tiny TV set. And then at 7:28 am, a minute of silence. The exact moment, twelve years ago, that the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about our customers and national security in the last week since the horrifying revelations that, in an effort to spy on potential terrorists, elements of the intelligence community in the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have engineered backdoors into core encryption standards relied upon by every internet user.
These encryption standards are the bedrock of internet security, and the basis of the public’s trust in the internet. Undermining this trust doesn’t just put secure bank transactions or the free flow of commerce at risk. It puts the global spread of democracy at risk -- a far more important long-term national security objective than catching a few terrorists.
After 9/11, the Bush and Blair administrations said we were going to stop terrorism by bringing democracy to the Middle East. They went to war for it.
But you can’t force democracy. That is antithetical to democracy.
Democracy emerges when people stand up for themselves and organize. The internet makes that dramatically easier. And it is happening today. Egypt. Tunisia. Libya. Even Iraq. There is nothing more threatening to terrorism and violent regimes than the free flow of culture and ideas in an interconnected world.
The State Department gets that. Three years ago, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated: "Those who use the internet to recruit terrorists or distribute stolen intellectual property cannot divorce their online actions from their real world identities. But these challenges must not become an excuse for governments to systematically violate the rights and privacy of those who use the internet for peaceful political purposes.”
Engineering weaknesses into secure internet protocols and proactively advocating for weaker standards will ultimately cause forces for good around the globe to question if they should trust the internet for peaceful organizing. We cannot let that happen. We must have new encryption standards, created not by any government, not by the intelligence community, but by the internet community.
9/11 turned me into an activist, and I wholeheartedly believe in the potential of a connected humanity to transform the world. But it is not inevitable, it is up to us to make it happen.