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Friday, June 07, 2013

Now heaven knows, anything goes....

I've been busy. busy to the point of not writing anything here, although I've still shared plenty of stuff on my favourite faux social network - Google+

So just a few words on PRISM and all the noise that its generating. If you don't know what it is by now, you almost certainly got nothing to worry about, or you don't work in IT. The short version is that PRISM is an alleged Top Secret project which the US government run, to monitor and record Internet traffic. It's said that all the Internet service big names are connected to it - Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo to name but 5, and that in short the FBI and the like have a tap directly into these services, to read (and presumably copy) whatever they want out of them. In summary they can read your stuff.... All of it.



It gets more complicated and I'll come onto that in a minute, but here's the thing that I find completely incredible....

Why is this a surprise to anyone?

From the early days of the Internet and the first time I saw a tool provided by "The Cult of the Dead Cow" in the 1990's even I could see that privacy online was dead. The tool enabled you to port scan a network segment, connect to a windows based machine and gain access to pretty much whatever you wanted from the system. Open shop.... Anything connected to the Internet is vulnerable and therefore not a safe place for any kind of conversation of a sensitive nature. Anyone who thinks otherwise (and right about now I guess we have almost an entire generation who do) is frankly naive.

It's this lack of experience which has lead to people putting things online that they later regret - be that an embarrassing Facebook update, or something more obscure, damning or even illegal. In the end, if you can't say it front of the world, don't say it online - and that goes for storing data on a connected system as well. Connected does not mean safe.

The ability to snoop all of our online data is a very obvious step for government agencies - especially those concerned with intelligence and in my opinion it's a valid and useful thing for them to pursue, albeit laced with pitfalls and problems - not the least of which is public education.

And this is where I start to have worries... Jurisdiction is for me the biggest reason NOT to allow a government to do this. Surely snooping on anyone other than your own citizens could be construed as an act of war or, at least in it's simplest form, it's spying - and the Cold War is testament to the situations that can arise as a result.

So when I hear President Obama say to the good people of the US "We're only using it on people that are non-US citizens" - I get very concerned. If a US request to monitor a British citizen was carried out via GCHQ, I wouldn't feel as worried, but the fact that the major companies involved are all American, means that most of their data lives on hardware in US and thus under US jurisdiction no matter where the people using them are.

In summary, all of 800million Facebook users data is in the US, and so the US government (via PRISM) can help themselves to it whenever they feel like it. In fact, I don't actually believe its as simple as that for them to do (at the moment) but those days are not far away.

With the US holding all the cards here (in the form of the large Internet companies), the UK, Europe and Asia are somewhat behind the curve on tracking US or UK citizens and clearly have only been doing so via an agreement with the US agencies (The NSA, FBI etc). Interestingly, the companies involved are issuing denials around the levels of their involvement - so my vote here is for openness. After all, we're adults and can draw our own conclusions about the processes involved.

I understand why these agencies exist and that they really do protect their respective countries citizens. No doubt there are many stories we may never hear about, where major incidents have been avoided as a result of their work - and I'm both grateful and supportive of them. But there has to be a balance.

Right now, I think the balance is being tested to see just how far it can be tipped before there's a backlash.

My final thought for now - as an example - it's NOT ok for newspapers to tap phones and read emails without any formal permission, so should it be alright for governments to do so? There may be circumstances when it is......what do you think ?

PS - Nice to be back ;-)
Until next time....
 

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