Friday, August 23, 2013

The global panopticon

Today's NSALeak: The UK is spying on all international phone and data traffic that passes through the Middle East:

Britain runs a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies, The Independent has learnt.

The station is able to tap into and extract data from the underwater fibre-optic cables passing through the region.

The information is then processed for intelligence and passed to GCHQ in Cheltenham and shared with the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States. The Government claims the station is a key element in the West’s “war on terror” and provides a vital “early warning” system for potential attacks around the world.

But remember, this doesn't just capture the traffic of the dread islamopedopirateterrorists; it also snoops on that of vast numbers of ordinary, innocent people. Quite possibly including you, if you've ever sent an email to someone in the UK or read Al-Jazeera's website.

And while we're on the subject of NSALeaks: the NSA illegally collected tens of thousands of US domestic emails. Their explanation of how is fascinating and troubling:
"If you have a webmail email account, like Gmail or Hotmail, you know that if you open up your email program, you will get a screenshot of some number of emails that are sitting in your inbox, the official said.

"Those are all transmitted across the internet as one communication. For technological reasons, the NSA was not capable of breaking those down, and still is not capable, of breaking those down into their individual [email] components."

If one of those emails contained a reference to a foreign person believed to be outside the US – in the subject line, the sender or the recipient, for instance – then the NSA would collect the entire screenshot "that's popping up on your screen at the time," the official continued.

So basically, if you're an American and you use a webmail service to talk to us dirty suspicious foreigners, the NSA reads all your emails. I guess we're all just islamopedopirateterrorists to them.

Which raises the questions: whose traffic are we snopping on as part of this system? And do we really want our government to be invading privacy on such a massive, worldwide scale?