The debate over the U.S. government’s monitoring of digital communications suggests that Americans are willing to allow it as long as it is genuinely targeted at terrorists. What they fail to realize is that the surveillance systems are best suited for gathering information on law-abiding citizens.
Think about it for a second: is a Facebook chat or a Gmail conversation the method you’d choose through which to plan an act of terrorism? It doesn’t make any sense.
According to this recent piece from InformationWeek, attempts to hide your online activities from the NSA will (predictably) make you a target:
When encryption is encountered […] the gloves can come off, with analysts being allowed to retain "communications that are enciphered or reasonably believed to contain secret meaning" for any period of time. […] Since the NSA guidelines say that a person "will not be treated as a United States person" without a positive identification based on name, address, electronic communication addresses or geographic location, encryption users may because classified – at least temporarily – as non-U.S. residents by NSA analysts.
So if they can’t tell where you are, you lose your already dubious "rights." If you close a door behind you, there’s a 100% chance that you’re doing something very, very bad.
There’s a lot of hysteria in this otherwise typically wishy-washy "on-one-hand-but-also-on-the-other-hand" piece on the "Dark Web" by Mark Ward of the BBC:
By contrast, [Mick Moran, Interpol’s acting assistant director of cybersecurity and crime] said, his experience of dark nets such as Tor was that their use by activists and the oppressed was more than outweighed by criminal abuse of such anonymising systems.
"They use it to access and exchange child exploitation material and child pornography," he said. "Because they are untraceable then society lacks the ability to enforce democratically put in place laws around this issue."
I’d certainly expect a cop to take a dim view of anonymity on the Web; there’s nothing surprising in that. Obviously cops want to have access to as much of our data as possible. What we have to ask ourselves is this: do we really want to throw out all hope of any privacy whatsoever simply because criminals try to do bad things in private? Where was the rush to outlaw doors in 1956? I mean, criminals hid behind them!
Michael Arrington, I must admit, can generally be considered to be representative of flawed humanity at its worst. But I want to hear him out on PRISM and FISA, because his seemingly wild rants have an unsettling ring of plausibility in them:
[…] we won’t be able to go back and change our history. They’ll see that a decade ago we donated to Planned Parenthood and voted for President Obama. Suddenly, going out and buying a gun or two won’t be enough. The new government will know we’re not true believers in the cause. We’re secret left wing or right wing extremists, and guilty of a new crime – engaging in personal behavior designed to fool the surveillance state.
Yes, I can easily see a future law that prohibits us from engaging in behavior that is designed to trip up the surveillance machine.
There may be no point in attempting to maintain even rudimentary notions of privacy, because the entire history of everything you’ve said, done, or looked at on the Internet is already sitting on an ugly government server, ready to be mined, searched, and cross-referenced on any future date, to serve any Totalitarian purpose. And any attempt to hide what you’re interested in will seem suspicious.
Onion Browser, a 99¢ TOR-based browser for iOS, provides what is likely the most secure browsing environment you’re likely to find on your iPhone or iPad. The good news is that despite a few potential security holes, it’s pretty much just as secure as connecting via the TOR network on your desktop machine. I’m guessing that there are a lot of Apple customers looking for something like this, given the news this week.