mnot’s blog

Design depends largely on constraints.” — Charles Eames

Monday, 20 July 2015

Snowden Meets the IETF

Last night, we had a screening of CITIZENFOUR at the IETF meeting in Prague, and about 170 people showed up to see the movie about Edward Snowden’s relevations — information that led the IETF to declare such pervasive monitoring as an attack on the Internet itself.

When we floated the idea originally, some folks were uninterested; they thought that everyone who would want to see the movie already would have. Instead, we had a good representation of the people who design and maintain the Internet watching the movie intently; they were glued to the screen and for most of the film you could hear a pin drop in the room. This is a crowd who always has their laptops open, but they went away for this.

We also had a surprise guest - Edward Snowden himself via video chat, arranged thanks to the efforts of DKG. After a spontaneous standing ovation, Snowden went on to dive into the details of the technology we’re defining — everything from DNSSEC and DANE to WiFi privacy. The questions came thick and fast, and we got a rare insight into not only his motivations and opinions, but also the technical capabilities and mindset of those performing the pervasive monitoring attack.

Everyone was impressed by the depth of his thinking; several times, he cautioned against making the Internet anti-NSA; instead, our focus should be on making the user our primary stakeholder (which makes me want to revive this draft).

The session wasn’t recorded, but you can see a tweet stream of major points from Rich Salz and Niels ten Oever.

The statement above especially resonated for me, because last week when we were discussing the Unsanctioned Web Tracking finding in the TAG, TimBL exhorted us to design for the Web we want, not just the Web we have today.

A Word about How It Happened

It’s important to point out that this was NOT an official IETF event, and neither was it giving external advocacy organisations a stage (as some have intimated); rather, it was entirely an effort of individuals, working within the rules for requesting a room at IETF meetings.

In fact, while I paid for the screening fee myself, we got enough donations to cover not only that but also make a 670 Euro donation to the Courage Foundation - a fantastic result.

Thanks to Daniel Kahn Gillmor for arranging the Q&A, and Jake Applebaum and Laura Poitras for facilitating the screening. There’s already some background discussion about repeating the screening at the W3C’s Technical Plenary in October - stay tuned :)

UPDATE: There is a recording here and a transcript here.