Thursday, August 01, 2013

Keeping up with the Joneses

The latest NSA leak: the NSA spies on everyone's phone calls and email traffic and can make the metadata (and in some cases, the communications themselves) available at the touch of a button:

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.


XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA's "widest reaching" system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet", including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.

Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing "real-time" interception of an individual's internet activity.

This is why the GCSB is so hot for its spy bill. Currently, section 14 of the GCSB Act forbids them from doing anything like this here, or even from receving data on New Zealanders from their overseas "partners". Key's spy bill would repeal that protection. While they would still be prohibited from intercepting the "private communications" of New Zealanders, it would be open-season on our metadata, letting them see who we've talked to, what websites we've visited, how often, and for how long. And they'd be able to collect it, database it, mine it, and search it to their heart's content.

The spy bill isn't about "national security" - its about our spies keeping up with the Joneses in their ability to intrude into our lives. The Americans and the British have a panopticon, and the GCSB want one too. Its that simple.

As for what these vast new powers would be used for, we only have to look at how existing powers have been used: not against real threats to "national security", but against journalists, political threats to the government of the day. It is not about our safety, but about protecting the government from democratic accountability. And that is simply wrong.