‘Going Dark’ Gets Harder Everyday

Image by © Simone Golob/Corbis

Image by © Simone Golob/Corbis

The FBI and federal intelligence agencies are leading the charge for backdoor access into encrypted communications to “make America safe”. They claim they can’t effectively defeat terrorism without this ability. What a crock!  And It’s not just the bureaucrats, several presidential candidates, from both sides of the isle, have also demanded that technology companies create a way for investigators to unlock private encrypted communications.

Yet, according to a new study, Don’t Panic: Making Progress on the Going Dark Debate, funded by the Hewlett Foundation, all that “concern” is nonsense. The study was produced by current and former intelligence officials, technical experts and civil libertarians that included Matthew Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center under Obama; John Delong, the head of the NSA’s Commercial Solutions Center; Anne Neuberger, NSA’s chief risk officer, Jonathan Zittrain, professor of law and computer science at Harvard; and Joseph Nye, a Harvard government professor and former head of the National Intelligence Council, to name only a few.

“Going dark does not aptly describe the long-term landscape for government surveillance.” A raft of new technologies “being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity” that are expected to become the subject of court orders and subpoenas, are already the target of the National Security Agency as it places “implants” into networks around the world to monitor communications abroad.

These new technologies, that include products ranging from “toasters to bedsheets, light bulbs, cameras, toothbrushes, door locks, cars, televisions, watches and other wearables,” will give the government increasing opportunities to track everyone and in many cases, reconstruct communications and meetings.

Between Facebook sharing our vacation photos and friends list to the world, and Google tracking every search we’ve ever made, most of us have pretty much given up on the idea of privacy on the Internet. What is easy to forget is that real-world privacy is no better.

Bloomberg News reports the newest surveillance products “can also secretly activate laptop webcams or microphones on mobile devices,” listen in on Smart Television sets, and most anything connected to the wireless system in your home, as well as change the contents of written emails mid-transmission, and use voice recognition to scan phone networks.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) uses tiny computer chips smaller than a grain of sand to track not only products at your local Wal-Mart or Target but to follow you. They are used in your passports and if the government has its way, eventually they will be embedded in your state driver’s license, allowing the government to id you up to 30 feet away.

There are around 4,000 federal, state and local organizations working on domestic counterterrorism, most of which collect information on American citizens. The National Security Agency (NSA) collects hundreds of millions of emails, texts and phone calls every day and has the ability to collect and sift through billions more.

They exploit our cell phones and something as simple as EZ Passes to track us. Talking on a cellphone creates a record of your location down to a few dozen feet in most cities. Even when not in use, cellphone companies can be required under subpoenas to “ping” handsets without an owner’s knowledge to mark their locations. And the GPS chips built-in to most handsets and most GM automobiles offer yet another, more detailed alternative.

Police cameras capture your license plate daily giving them the ability to stitch together your very movements and share that information with the government. Over 126 million people have their fingerprints, photographs and biographical information accessible on the US Department of Homeland Security Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT), which add around 250,000 transaction each day.

More than 110 million people have their visas and photographs entered into the US Department of State Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) and its growing by 35,000 people each day. This system serves as a gateway to the Department of State Facial Recognition system, IDENT and IAFSIS. The FBI’s Combined DNA index System has more than 10 million people on file.

The history of technology proves that what is invented for convenience becomes a target of surveillance. According to the study “law enforcement or intelligence agencies may soon start to seek orders to compel Samsung, Google, Mattel, Nest or vendors of other network devices to push an update or flip a digital switch to intercept the ambient communications of their target.”

The advanced technology of the war on terrorism, combined with deferential courts and legislators, have endangered both the right to privacy and the right of people to be free from government snooping and tracking. Only the people can stop this.

“I think what this report shows is that the world today is like living in a big field that is more illuminated than ever before. There will be dark spots, there always will be. But I’s easy to forget that there is far more data available to governments now than ever before.” Joseph Nye

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