Gazing Back From the Abyss
Writing in the Washington Post, Susan Landau points out that one of the real dangers of the recently passed FISA law is that it might enable private hackers to get into the government’s systems and spy on private citizens as well.
Avoiding warrants for these cases sounds simple, though potentially invasive of Americans’ civil liberties. Most calls outside the country involve foreigners talking to foreigners. Most communications within the country are constitutionally protected — U.S. “persons” talking to U.S. “persons.” To avoid wiretapping every communication, NSA will need to build massive automatic surveillance capabilities into telephone switches. Here things get tricky: Once such infrastructure is in place, others could use it to intercept communications.
Grant the NSA what it wants, and within 10 years the United States will be vulnerable to attacks from hackers across the globe, as well as the militaries of China, Russia and other nations.
Such threats are not theoretical. For almost a year beginning in April 2004, more than 100 phones belonging to members of the Greek government, including the prime minister and ministers of defense, foreign affairs, justice and public order, were spied on with wiretapping software that was misused. Exactly who placed the software and who did the listening remain unknown. But they were able to use software that was supposed to be used only with legal permission.
Read the whole thing–this excerpt doesn’t do the argument justice.
There’s no question, in my mind, that the greatest threat posed by pervasive government surveillance is abuse of said surveillance. Still, the U.S. government isn’t exactly noted for the security of its computer systems, and the idea that any large-scale surveillance system can be easily hacked should, one would think, put pause to such efforts. It won’t, of course, because the boogeyman of terrorism will always be with us, giving power-hungry politicians ever more reasons to invade our privacy.
(link via Julian Sanchez)