September 13, 2013
NSA, Get Out Of My Phone
Whether we are a terrorist operative or simply send embarrassingly soppy texts to our partner, we all have something to fear from the National Security Agency (NSA), it seems.
According to German news weekly Der Spiegel, the NSA, along with Britain’s intelligence agency equivalent Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), has made concerted efforts to crack the security used to protect data in most high profile smartphones. Each major brand, such as iPhone, Blackberry and Android, had its own dedicated team to try and figure out more about what a phone has been used for. This follows leaks by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, a computer analyst who was a contractor for the NSA, regarding the sweeping up of mind-blowing amounts of information about the phone and Internet usage of citizens.
And it seems the teams were successful. Although Der Spiegel didn’t reveal where it got its information, there is widespread reporting that analysts used the code word ‘Champagne’ upon striking gold and being able to get inside of our phones and find out what we’ve been up to.
That doesn’t mean that they will get inside our phone, necessarily – just because they can. There hasn’t been much suggestion that widespread hacking of phones has been done, just as there hasn’t been much suggestion that the agencies will ever need to use even a fraction of the information they have that was revealed by the Snowden leaks.
A lot of people are up in arms about the situation. One might wonder if that’s because we like a good conspiracy theory, like to feel we are important enough that someone would want to spy on us, and enjoy feeling indignant. When, actually, those who are angry might question who the people are who are going to analyse this vast amount of information. It would take so many government workers that it might be the answer to all our economic problems; a socialist mass program of public works.
More likely, our governments don’t really care much what most of us do. That’s not to say that they are purely good-hearted, honest folk just trying to catch bad guys for us (and even if that is all they were doing, it would primarily be in order not to look bad and therefore not lose elections). They will know that an awful lot of things can be manipulated by having plenty of information, and their definition of bad guys might be different to ours. The activities of some perfectly legitimate political activists have been monitored using the information gained which Snowden revealed.
It comes down to whether we are offended and worried that governments might read our private correspondence details, or whether we are concerned that they are able to, even if they don’t. Personally, I am not somebody who assumes that every government in the world wants to end up as totalitarian as North Korea, given half a chance. I think a lot of infringements upon civil liberties in recent years have been due more to lack of judgement, panic, and the desire to be seen to be doing something to address public concerns about national security. But the worrying thing is that these recent revelations seem to suggest that governments don’t want to be seen to be doing what they are doing. Recent news of communications snooping is making me wonder just how shady things really are.
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