Monday, 10 June 2013

Prism, the NSA, GCHQ and privacy

The NSA and GCHQ are watching everything you do. They have all your phone calls, all your e-mails and all your social media posts. You should be very afraid and it is all Obama's fault. This is what the media want you to think.

This story unites the left and the right. The right because that "Liberal" Obama signed the order and this is another example of big government and big brother. The state is out to get you. Well actually EVERY president since Truman has been signing these orders, including Reagan and both the Bushes, you rhetorical he headline making GOP liar. Then the left talk about this invasion of privacy and civil liberties. The liberals are worried that NSA knows what they bought from Amazon last week, who they are having an affair with, that they go to swingers clubs at the weekends and which way they vote. Yes but I don't care and probably neither do the people who collected it. Your lives no matter how interesting they might be to the tabloids are irrelevant in the big picture of national security. You have more to fear from journalists intercepting your mobile phone calls and voice mail.

Reality is they have been collecting data in large amounts since world war two. What makes a difference now is the ability to collect much more much faster and that they have enough computer power to do something with the intercepts - although not much. Films and spy novels have been talking about this level of intelligence gathering for decades. Just watch Jason Bourne or Enemy of the State and see what they suggested the NSA could do a decade ago. That is fictional exaggeration but there are some elements of truth.

Imagine the daily grind of analysing petabytes of data for something interesting. You need a lot of analysts and a lot of computer power. Most of it is irrelevant and unimportant and among all this noise is the real intelligence. So if there were rogue agents or departments they could single out innocent individuals and make their lives miserable. The question you have to ask is why would they? What benefit is it to them? Apart from showing everyone they have this capability, which is the big secret they want to keep it is not something they come in to the office to do. First of all they don't want the enemies to know what they can find out. Apart from the odd nut (like Peter Wright and those who aided Senator McCarthy) who tries to misuse the data for their own personal agendas we are safe from big brother.

We are safe because in general the military and intelligence services are not interested in our lives and they are not interested in abusing their power. I have more faith in the integrity of the intelligence agencies than I do in the politicians and journalists who seek to expose them. Those who want to ban the wide-spread collection of data are those in whose minds its improper exploitation is a certainty. They imagine others doing the things that they would do if they had access to that data and so they feel we need protection. We do need protection, but only from them getting access. The reality is there are very few cases where this data, that has been available for decades, has been misused because most of the people involved have integrity and it is this integrity that we have to maintain. We have to be aware that the information we are given is never the whole story and we have to always question the motives of those involved and so long as we do this we have nothing to fear.

For a more humorous view here is a nice Tumblr of Obama checking our e-mail.

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