That’s the title of RFC 7258, also known as BCP 188 (where BCP stands for “Best Current Practice”); it represents Internet Engineering Task Force consensus on the fact that many powerful well-funded entities feel it is appropriate to monitor people’s use of the Net, without telling those people. The consensus is: This monitoring is an attack and designers of Internet protocols must work to mitigate it.
Concretely, quoting from the RFC (PM stands for Pervasive Monitoring): “Those developing IETF specifications need to be able to describe how they have considered PM, and, if the attack is relevant to the work to be published, be able to justify related design decisions.”
The back story · Since the pervasive-surveillance story broke in June 2013, it’s reasonable to wonder why the IETF is putting this stake in the ground in May of 2014. The IETF works by “rough consensus”, and the path to this particular consensus was particularly rough. The resistance was vociferous, and fell into some of these baskets:
“This is politics. The IETF doesn’t/shouldn’t do politics.”
“There are legitimate reasons to monitor Internet traffic.” (For example, in businesses and prisons.)
“I work in an area where privacy technologies can’t be used.” (One example is ham radio).
“Privacy technologies will drive up the cost of deploying, managing, and using the Net.”
“The IETF Security Area Directors were mean to me in the past, got in the way of publishing important work, and this will give them another club to beat me with.”
I and lots of others didn’t buy the objections. My own takes are: First, the document carefully steers clear of the motivations for pervasive monitoring, mostly because you can’t figure out what they are. Second, we don’t want an Internet optimized for prisons. Third, if your application doesn’t support privacy, that’s probably a bug in your application. Fourth, the cost of ignoring surveillance exceeds the cost of mitigating it. Finally, the state of Internet privacy suggests that the security people historically haven’t been mean enough.
Of course, if you were paranoid and suspicious, you might feel that some of the resistance is related to the facts that there are people making big money selling surveillance technology, and that other people think Ed Snowden is a traitor and it’s perfectly reasonable for the NSA to know everything about everyone, because if you’re not doing anything wrong why would you want privacy?
Also, the IETF has a contingent that is reflexively against anything new, or that has any flavor of idealism, or that generally rocks any boats.
In any case, I think it was very important, for the continued relevance and usefulness of the IETF, that it, in this case, rise above its own naysayers, bring to bear a mix of idealism, suspicion, and paranoia, and do what is right for the actual people who use the Internet.
Acknowledgments · Thanks are due to Stephen Farrell, who wrote the document, to the members of the “Perpass” mailing list, and then the IETF community as a whole.
Also to Ed Snowden and the journalists who brought his story forward, for starting this very, very necessary conversation.