Reader, you probably don’t know this, but you’ve probably agreed that it’s still totally OK for the government to listen in on your encrypted communications. Like many things involving the three-letter agencies, your agreement is secret, even to yourself, but still carries the force of law.
Let’s back up a second — what’s happening? Basically, much of the internet’s infrastructure is encrypted. Even if you don’t actively use encryption to protect your emails and such, if you point your web browser at a site that begins with “HTTPS,” you’ve initiated a secure communication channel. Using a protocol known as Transport Layer Security (TLS) or its predecessor, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), your activity on HTTPS websites is hidden from nefarious eavesdroppers. In theory.
The NSA and FBI have long agitated that these and other secure communication channels represent a national security risk. They would like major device manufacturers, websites, ISPs, and other services to insert “backdoors” into their secure software, allowing the intelligence community to effortlessly snoop on otherwise privileged conversations. There is, of course, no possibility that they would ever abuse this power.
Funny thing, however — other countries who’ve implemented the same kind of mandatory backdoor policy have experienced certain…pitfalls. In 2004’s “Athens Affair,” some then-unknown party managed to obtain access to a similar scheme run by the Greek government. By breaking into government-mandated backdoors installed in Vodafone’s communications network, this nefarious third party was able to intercept phone calls by the Greek president and other public figures. Any guesses as to who that third party was?
Here’s a hint: it was the NSA.
Installing backdoors into a secure system inherently compromises that system. By advocating for such a system within the US, even knowing how easily it has penetrated similar systems in other countries, the NSA is being extremely cynical, not to mention hypocritical.
A petition being circulated by civil liberties groups, feeding into the White House petition system, is only at 58,000 signatures as of this writing. Frankly, if only few of us as 58,000 can be bothered to care about our privacy, we probably don’t deserve it.
[Post image credit: Carsten Reisinger / Shutterstock.com]