Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Surveillance State

If you haven't heard of it by now you must have been on drugs these past few days. First The Guardian told us that NSA receives daily updates of all phone records made through Verizon; the following day both The Guardian and Washington Post told us that for seven years now the NSA has had open access to user data at Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Apple and more. In other words, this is the biggest invasion of privacy ever conducted.
So first, let me pat the back of whoever it was that leaked this news from the NSA and award him the Bradley Manning award for true heroism in the service of society. I do hope he doesn't end up the way Manning is.
By now the USA admits the act, no doubt leaving the Chinese government extremely jealous. Some poor excuses were offered, along the lines of The Guardian's coverage being inaccurate (rumor has it there were a few grammar errors there). Then we were told that only stuff outside the USA was tapped, which really comforted me because - as we all know - everybody outside the USA is an evil non North American scum; yet surely we cannot accept that explanation given the Verizon side of the story. And now Obama stepped in to feebly defend the charade.
Am I surprised by this whole affair? I cannot say I am. I have been following Asher Wolf on Twitter and paying attention to what Jacob Appelbaum has to say for years now. The difference now is that the benefit of doubt has been taken away from the USA: yes, it is undoubtedly a fucked up state. And the Obama administration? Well, it may be white as snow when compared to China's ruling party, but to quote the Pythons, I wouldn't even fart in its general direction.

Now that we accept the reality, the real question is what can we do about it. Given that the Internet companies through which we are being spied are pretty much at the core of almost everything Internet, how can we ensure we still have a shred of privacy?
There are options there but they are hard. Basically, one needs to move away from American Internet services. Want your web mail? Go with GMX instead of Gmail.
Second, you can always encrypt your own stuff. TrueCrypt is an open source tool that allows everything you want out of NSA eyes to remain so. Widely available for every platform, it raises an important question: every would be baddie with an ounce of wits about them would take care to encrypt their shit before sticking it on the web, so what is the point of this whole affair in the first place? It's not just me saying it: the Danish government admitted collecting all this big-big data turned out to be a useless affair. So what is the point?
The only worthy answer I can come up with is that the information is collected in order to establish a form of a surveillance state that even the Stasi could only dream of but which is now possible through technology. And with most of us carrying smartphones that allow the big Internet companies and telcos to know more about us than anybody else including our mothers, that vision of Orwell's is now not only a possibility - it is reality.
So, are we going to take this lying down? Sure, we can encrypt, but why should we retreat in the first place? Surely the American system, despite the Obama encumbrance, can still sort itself out? Well, all I can say is that now I am an even prouder than before member of EFF. Because I can trust them to take this as far as humanely possible in order to fix this affair; their track record speaks for itself.

Image: Electronic Frontier Foundation's Hugh D'Andrade

1 comment:

wile.e.coyote said...