As the news story about hundreds of celebrities' private photos being invaded and distributed has echoed across the media outlets, I see people blaming the victims, people blaming Apple, people blaming the script kiddies that violated privacy, and more. However, I think the most important aspect has been completely overlooked.
Last year when the Snowden story first broke, I was working at Microsoft. The day after The Guardian reported that the NSA was illegally surveilling pretty much everybody in the world including American citizens, I commented to my mentor at the time that the ramifications were bigger and deeper than Watergate. I stand by that assertion today. The intelligence agencies are systemically violating the Constitution to such a severe degree that they have to maintain a false reality for their employees in order to continue functioning, to the point that they even redefine common words to mean something unrelated to the true meaning of the word. “Collected” means “searched for and looked at by a human” rather than “gathered”. They record all your communications and archive them in a huge database, use computer algorithms to search through all your communications and build indexes of their content, and say that this is not “collecting” your communications. This is such a bald-faced lie that the only thing I can think of is Orwell’s doublethink in 1984. The US intelligence agencies have essentially created Orwell’s fictional dystopia, and they did it right here in the “land of the free”.
But whenever I try to communicate this to anybody, I encounter only disbelief and apathy. People will alternately deny that such a horrible thing could be going on, then claim that it is not horrible at all, and back again. So far I have been unable to convey just how significant and critical this state of affairs is.
Lately I have been reading about the hacks that violated the privacy of hundreds of public figures. Many people are outraged, some do not understand how this could happen, others say it was inevitable. A few are trying to figure out how it did happen. So far, it seems like the scandal is actually the amalgamation of hundreds of separate hacking attempts, each targeted at a specific celebrity and spanning months of time and at least dozens of people, maybe more. What we are seeing is not a discrete event, rather it is a brief window into an ongoing underground movement, or perhaps economy is a better description. These hacks did not start recently, and they did not end. They have been going on for years and will continue forever. Anybody can be a target, from Jennifer Lawrence the movie star to Susan who lives down the block from you. They can be motivated by insane paparazzi and by jealous boyfriends and ex-boyfriends. There is no person “boring” enough to be immune to these attacks. If you’ve ever ended a relationship, if you’ve ever pissed somebody off, you can be a target.
How does this connect back to the NSA and government spying? Very simple. The nudity-hungry fans and jealous ex-boyfriends are using the same tools that the police use for “lawful intercepts”.
This is the crux of the issue, and why the NSA spying is so incredibly damaging to everybody. As security guru Bruce Schneier points out, everything the NSA uses to spy on you is also available to the creep across the street who has been following you around for weeks. The NSA has a term they use internally, “NOBUS”, which stands for “nobody but us”. It means they can crack people’s systems but nobody else can crack those same systems. This is another clear example of the fantasy world they work in, the doublethink they use every day. NOBUS is a lie, a grossly damaging conceit.
Bruce Schneier again points out how this entire situation affects us all.
The NSA’s actions are making us all less safe. They’re not just spying on the bad guys, they’re deliberately weakening Internet security for everyone—including the good guys. It’s sheer folly to believe that only the NSA can exploit the vulnerabilities they create. Additionally, by eavesdropping on all Americans, they’re building the technical infrastructure for a police state.
We’re not there yet, but already we’ve learned that both the DEA and the IRS use NSA surveillance data in prosecutions and then lie about it in court. Power without accountability or oversight is dangerous to society at a very fundamental level.
If you want to start hacking people’s phones to steal their nude pictures, head on over to Elcomsoft and buy the software that can copy everything off of an iPhone without needing a password. If you go through the iCloud, you can do it remotely, no need to actually touch their phone. See how the “I’m not interesting to the government” argument falls apart now? You need to ask if there is anybody who might want to invade your privacy.
And just to drive home the point that this is more than just the NSA, much of the information goes through the FBI. It is also shared with the DEA who use it to arrest people for drug trafficking, and then they commit perjury in court by lying about how they found the person. You know those 50,000 SWAT raids we have every year in this country? Most of them are for non-violent drug offenses, such as these. And sometimes SWAT invades the home of innocent people and points automatic rifles at their heads. But note that while they are recording you constantly, you cannot record them.
Lofgren had asked me to brief her and a few Representatives on the NSA. She said that the NSA wasn’t forthcoming about their activities, and they wanted me — as someone with access to the Snowden documents — to explain to them what the NSA was doing. Of course, I’m not going to give details on the meeting, except to say that it was candid and interesting. And that it’s extremely freaky that Congress has such a difficult time getting information out of the NSA that they have to ask me. I really want oversight to work better in this country.
The US intelligence agencies are an existential threat to the United States of America.
Human being need privacy. It is a fundamental human right. It is not a privilege, it is not optional, it is required for us to survive. What the NSA is doing is universal surveillance. On top of that, the organizations that have built this universal surveillance system are also the ones that have a long and well-documented history of abusing and persecuting citizens for political purposes. COINTELPRO, CHAOS, MINARET, SHAMROCK, Mockingbird, HTLINGUAL, ARTICHOKE, MKULTRA, Paperclip, the list goes on and on.
And finally, these systems are susceptible to abuse. This is not just a hypothetical problem. Recent history illustrates many episodes where this information was, or would have been, abused: Hoover and his FBI spying, McCarthy, Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, anti-war Vietnam protesters, and—more recently—the Occupy movement.