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The Snowden Disclosures, Technical Standards and the Making of Surveillance Infrastructures

Rogers, M and Eden, G (2017) The Snowden Disclosures, Technical Standards and the Making of Surveillance Infrastructures. International Journal of Communication, 11. pp. 802-823. ISSN 1932-8036

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Abstract

The Snowden documents have revealed that intelligence agencies conduct large-scale digital surveillance by exploiting vulnerabilities in the hardware and software of communication infrastructures. These vulnerabilities have been characterized as “weaknesses,” “flaws,” “bugs,” and “backdoors.” Some of these result from errors in the design or implementation of systems, others from unanticipated uses of intended features. A particularly subtle kind of vulnerability arises from the manipulation of technical standards to render communication infrastructures susceptible to surveillance. Technical standards have a powerful influence on our digital environment: They shape the conditions under which digital citizenship is exercised. The Snowden revelations brought to the forefront the role of intelligence agencies in the standards-making process, lending new urgency to the debate over the adequacy and legitimacy of the current mechanisms used for negotiating standards. This article explores how influence is exercised in the production of standards and the implications this has for their trustworthiness and integrity.

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