As you may have noticed, I’ve been watching the progress of the NSA revelations with some interest, how PRISM works, who might be behind it and exactly how wide-ranging the whole project is. Here in Germany we have experienced many, many eye-opening revelations about the spying activities of the United States – spying on friends and allies – and exactly how the British and other countries, including Germany, are involved with the whole. Amongst the revelations, and despite strong denials, it is now clear that the German secret service, the BND, and the German military could be working hand in hand with the NSA too. There is a collation system in use in Afghanistan, for example, which fulfills the same function as the PRISM system from the NSA but is operated by the German military. The government, naturally, denied that there is any link between the two and that even though it is clear that information input into the German collation system links to the NSA computers and, wait for it, the system is called PRISM.
I have also read how some people are relieved that their Internet or telecommunications partner is not on the list of those that the NSA taps into, which caused me a wry moment of amusement. An international network such as the Internet does not work simply through one company such as AOL or AT&T, they are all linked. That means communications which run through T-Mobile, for example, also cross through the systems of AOL and AT&T at some stage and are, logically, as easily read as if they were directly tapped into.
Photo Source: tmwclan
What we basically have is a system which has been beautified, but which still tries, unsuccessfully, to hide its true purpose. That the Internet and all telecommunications systems are interlinked is both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on how you wish to view it.
And I am amazed at how many people are trying to put the blame for this state of affairs onto the shoulders of one government, one agency or even one person. Fair enough, everyone who is in office now has continued the spying / espionage scheme, there is no doubt of that, but can they be blamed for it? I don’t think so. The initiation of the whole didn’t begin with George W. Bush, the Patriot Act or anything similar. it has been in place and working considerably longer. The last few years have merely seen an expansion of the whole, and many attempts to keep it secret from those who are targeted.
Now, if those who are targeted were really criminals I think we would all have no problems with the idea. The thing is, in order to find the guilty parties a certain amount of research has to be carried out, and that means taking absolutely everything available and filtering it down. That means, as I am sure you can imagine, the innocent are in the picture too. They have to be, both as a control feature and in order to find new criminals, or people linked to and supporting the criminals or potential terrorists. And the fact that the NSA, and others, are also reading communications from American citizens? This fact should hardly come as a surprise. After all, the bulk of terrorist activity is researched and carried out on American soil and with the help from Americans, no matter in which country the original idea came from.
Photo Source: sveo
So how can the average person, going about their daily Internet business protect themselves? The simple answer is that they can’t. It is possible to encrypt absolutely every mail that is sent out, and really catch the attention of the authorities, but what would be the point? And how can you encrypt your blog posts, your Facebook status updates, your Twitter tweets so that those who are on your friend, fan or viewer lists can still read them?
The next question is, of course, does the spying system even work? Can or does it actively prevent any terrorist or criminal activity? Here the answer is mixed. Yes, it could prevent some criminal activity, from small criminals without financial or technical resources to get around the spies. But terrorists? Hardly likely. They don’t even need to use mail to communicate with one another. Massive and detailed amounts of information can be uploaded to a secure web site as a file in a directory protected by a strong password and then accessed by those who need it. Checking every single file on every single server throughout the world is not going to be within the powers of any agency. Likewise the United States legislative body, when passing laws on telecommunications, has made it difficult for law enforcing agencies to find, track and intercept telecommunications. In Europe the purchase of a cell phone requires registration and some form of official identification. In the States anyone can buy – or be given – a cell phone which is not registered, a throwaway account with a pre-paid card.
Photo Source: lachschon
And in the end, no matter how well you protect yourself, no matter how many safeguards you build into securing your information, your communications, there will always be a system which can crack or hack or reveal what you are doing. It doesn’t need to show the contents of your communication, a link to another suspicious person or organization is enough.
At the same time it is important that these spying activities be regulated. A democracy relies on transparency as well as good order and clear, fair legal devices. We may shake our heads over Egypt and the way the military has moved in to take control of the country – no matter how long this control may remain in force – and many other countries where the military or some other agency is clearly pulling the strings, but is that any different from the United States? You just need to look at the information provided to government officials, to ministers, prior to the Iraqi invasion to see just how strings can be pulled, just how misinformation can be used to bring a desired action into force. The power remains with those who have the information, who have the infrastructure to gather, to analyze and to disseminate according to their own agenda. And that, much as many may wish it not to be so, is exactly what the NSA has at the moment. It has the power to influence through selective information what the politicians decide. The NSA is in much the same position as a large and powerful lobby group but with many advantages over a normal lobbyist. They work in secret, do not need to register an interest and, thanks to this wonderful idea of ‘National Security’ appear always to be trustworthy and accurate.
There can be no effective regulation of the security agencies. They decide for themselves which snippets of information are released and to whom. They decide what the politicians, their paying masters, need to know and what can be slipped under the carpet or assigned to some innocuous budget or department where it will arouse no suspicion. They have the advantage that, through the democratic process, those to whom they are answerable change regularly and they have the advantage of this ‘National Security’ which, in the end, is justification for everything that they do and cannot be questioned.
Those people out there lamenting the loss of their Freedoms and Rights according to the Constitution, whether it be the Second Amendment or anything else, and battling to retain something written hundreds of years ago are merely scratching the surface of a problem which is already anchored hard and fast in our society. The Constitution is a mere piece of paper, a palliative for the masses which, sadly, is nothing more than just that. The Constitution as anything other than an historical document has nothing to do with the reality of the United States of America today and, to all intents and purposes, will never regain its revered position as the foundation stone upon which modern America works and survives.
- Viktoria Michaelis.