The Guardian, NYT, and NPR report the latest disclosures from Snowden’s cache of purloined NSA documents. It now appears that the feds are decrypting reams of internet data from Americans in an “opportunistic” manner. This means that they just gratuitously grab it, convert it into clear text, and then store it for later analysis just to see if it might contain anything of interest to them.
But that’s just the ho-hum news that we’ve been hearing for months (years?) now – so what else is new? To me the real news is that the feds have convinced certain big data collection and handling companies on the web to not only turn over data to the government, but also share with them their encryption processes; and here’s the big one, to insert ‘back doors’ and ‘trap doors’ into the security programs of these companies. These software devices allow the NSA to access and manipulate the manner in which security measures are embedded in data transmission systems that such companies operate. (a snootful here and here)
Fundamentally, all these firms are customer service companies, and they all trumpet how they keep their customers’ data secure. Now we know that some of these companies lie to us when they say that. For them to have started opening up their software to NSA, it sure appears that they were coerced to do so. Why else would they compromise their integrity which is the keystone of their customer trust relationship? (At BizRate.com a decade ago we were early collectors of consumer data, and the loss of trust would have put us out of business literally overnight. Even the appearance of that was a big concern to us as various organizations and institutions approached us for data.)
Under such circumstances it would be more than interesting to know what ‘offers’ Big Brother made to these companies that they could not refuse.
So now we are assured that even our most private data transmitted between our financial institutions and legal counsel is open to the government. We are told not to worry because it is all done for our safety and security, and I’m confident that some such activity is indeed necessary given the technical sophisticates in the employ of radical Islam and other geo-strategic adversaries.
But I’d sure like to know more about how the NSA et al really parse and partition the data they surreptitiously lift from us, how they assure that some lame brain bureaucrat from another agency does not get his hands on it for use against us in non-security situations. From the general ineptness, incompetence, and perfidy rampant in government operations, the chance that such data sharing will be done is almost certainty. What could or should a well-intentioned government do to put our minds at rest, instead of telling us to ‘suck it up and live with it’?