Yesterday, we learned from Edward Snowden that the NSA has penetrated the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, complementing their court-supported compromise of American technology companies at home with good-old-fashioned clandestine compromise of those same companies abroad.
Think about it.
That’s hundreds of millions of records from hundreds of millions of users – many of them Americans, whether at home or abroad – hoovered up on a dynamic basis, stored and analyzed in massive secretive government data centers. With zero effective oversight.
That’s a virtual wet dream for ex-Soviet era KGB and East German Stasi types who once relied on tracking and monitoring citizens based on reams of paper and warehouses of filing cabinets, as opposed to, for instance, the NSA’s Utah data center with the capacity to store 5 Zettabytes (5 billion Terabytes) of information.
Indeed, courtesy of www.opendatacenter.de: “Assuming that a filing cabinet with 60 files (30,000 pages of paper) uses up 0,4 m², which would correspond to 120 MB of data, the printed out Utah data center would use up 17 million square kilometers.” (Note: The Continental U.S. is about 10 million square kilometers).
But I digress.
Ours is a country built on the rule of law and respect for – fealty to – the rights of citizens. Both of these fundamental precepts are increasingly at risk in terms of what has become an out-of-control technology-run-amok surveillance state spawned by our post-Soviet era government-inspired culture of fear.
Yes, we should expect our government to engage in appropriate intelligence gathering activities for national security purposes. And yes, we do have laws and oversight processes in place to govern the activities of our intelligence agencies to preclude abuse, at home or abroad. But, advances in technology and storage and processing have ridiculously eclipsed legal or oversight regimes, resulting in rampant abuse and invasion of privacy, at home and abroad.
Do I trust my government to do what is “right?” Perhaps. Today. But who knows what the world will look like in ten years. Look, I’m sorry, but given everything that has been unveiled since June, and the consistent exposure by each succeeding revelation of the latest round of government “clarifications” being, often as not, patently untrue, I simply cannot accept nor trust government protestations that “there is no abuse” and “there are laws to protect you,” etc.
I would prefer to benefit from a “trust-but-verify” process (due props to President Reagan). Such, however, thus far, seems an impossibility, in terms of the complexity of the technologies involved, the vast, endless amounts of data being mined, analyzed and stored, and the iron curtain of government secrecy cast over what the NSA and other agencies may or may not be doing with that data. King George’s “writs of assistance” that our Founding Fathers so valiantly objected to two-and-a-half centuries ago are back, and on steroids.
In the name of national security we have effectively undermined national security: Our adversaries are clever enough to evade the dragnet, our allies are now alienated, our leading technology companies – key contributors to our economic national security – are at risk of becoming pariahs, the infinite data teats that our intelligence agencies have so greedily suckled may well go dry, or, at the very least, sour. The precedent we have set is a model for totalitarian and repressive regimes worldwide to mimic, the deepest irony being that we have consistently accused such regimes of such abuse in the past knowing full well that our own transgressions were significantly more grievous.
Enough with the vain government protestations of innocence and good intent. It’s time for a reset. It’s time to rebuild trust. It’s time to restore American honor, pride, privacy, and leadership. It’s time to acknowledge that technology has outpaced and out-scaled outdated and, to some extent, outlandish policy, law and regulation, and to adjust ourselves accordingly.