Friday, June 7, 2013

On The NSA

The NSA has been monitoring just about everyone's phone-calls. Not the content--they weren't listening in--but the facts of the call: who made it, where it was from and to, and the duration. If it was a cell phone, they can probably gauge your geographical location pretty closely.

What's more, we've learned about PRISM--a plan by the USA to monitor, well, everything:
They Should Do Netflix For Movies Terrorists Like. Also: PalTalk!?
This has led to:

What Are The Relevant Points
Man, That Is Some REALLY Bad PowerPoint.
Here's what you should know:
  1. There do seem to be controls in place. While there's certainly some stuff we can't see there does appear to be congressional and judicial oversight. 
  2. They are NOT listening to your phone calls. They are, as noted, simply drawing the web of calls. This is good for generating leads--but unless you are calling your mistress or your dominatrix it's not all that incriminating. If you called a terrorist though ...
  3. The government's ability to "go into Google" (or whatever) and check data is on-demand. They have to have a court order. If you thought your data was totally not able to be seen on the cloud ... you didn't know what the cloud was in the first place.
  4. For now this seems to be legal (Thank You, Patriot Act). 
  5. There are claims from the government this has stopped terrorism. Believe it ... or Not.
  6. The USA has a "home field advantage" in this as the data that they are interested in is housed in the USA by American companies. These programs leverage that advantage against our enemies.
How To Protect Yourself: Encrypt
If you are personally concerned about the consumption of your data by the government there is a very simple, mostly free--largely hassle free solution: encrypt your communication. This will not protect from the phone tap--but you can encrypt files on google Drive, encrypt your email, and IM, and even phone conversations and so on.

Here you go:
So okay. You aren't hardly doing any of that (Except the TrueCrypt one, maybe?). But the point is that you could--why don't you? Because you don't think anyone is listening in? Let me tell you: the security professional assumption is any time you are talking on a cell phone someone is listening in (note: they will sell you this cell scanner for 500 bucks. I'm not 100% sure that one's real--but things like it are).

Welcome To Big Data
I suspect that Amazon bought GoodReads not because they wanted the reviews or the dysfunctional message boards and communities but because they wanted the ratings data. Amazon wants to push in front of you things you will buy. GoodReads has a Netflix style web of book-ratings; when users rate their enjoyment of several books, if patterns recur, you can start making note of them. Then it becomes predictive (with relevant strengths). This is the future.

I suspect that terrorist phone calls do follow certain patterns. We know that the Boston bombers had jihadi stuff on their accounts. All in all, I suspect that there is substantial value in this ability. It can, of course, be misused--but I'm hard-pressed to see that it has been.

I do not implicitly trust the government--but I have little qualms with letting their computers know when and to what number I made a phone call. I would certainly not want an NSA operative reading my email--but with a court order I recognize it can happen. My email is already scanned for key-word searches for advertisers. I'm okay with scanning it for terrorist flags.

The vast amount of this data itself is a kind of anonymity. Unless you fit a pattern, no human being will learn intimate secrets about you. If you do fit a pattern of behavior ... perhaps someone should be looking. That's what we'll all say the next time something blows up, anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Crap! They're monitoring AOL?!? Now they know when I order my parachute pants for the Haircut 100 concert...