24 November 2015

Mass surveillance unjustified: NYT

The Blog

In an unusual step by a publication close to the US government and part of mainstream media, the New York Times editorial board has slammed mass surveillance in an article.

The article in question mentioned that CIA director John Brennan was trying to blame Edward Snowden and the youth of America, who idolize the whistleblower, for jeopardizing the country's security. In remarks, the CIA man tried to put some of blame for the outrageous terror attacks in Paris, which killed 129 civilians, on Snowden and others who condemn espionage.

Brennan even called the attacks in Paris a “wake-up call.” However, Brennan is a known liar, as the NYT article points out:

  • "Last year, he bluntly denied that the C.I.A. had illegally hacked into the computers of Senate staff members conducting an investigation into the agency’s detention and torture programs when, in fact, it did.
  • "In 2011, when he was President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, he claimed that American drone strikes had not killed any civilians, despite clear evidence that they had.
  • "And his boss, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has admitted lying to the Senate on the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of data."

The article further states that mass surveillance would not have prevented the Paris attacks, as it was already being used on the attackers but there are simply too many extremists being monitored for the government to know who to arrest and when. As stated in the article, "the problem in this case was not a lack of data, but a failure to act on information authorities already had."

If this is so, then mass surveillance is useless, apparently impressive at a technical level, but in reality impractical in ensuring any security whatsoever for the state or the people. It does no good to have all the information in the universe if you don't know what to do with it. It must be remembered that millions of dollars continue to be poured into these programs, which do nothing to make anyone safe. Not a single terrorist attack has been stopped by intercepting phone calls or emails.

Commenting on the controversy, internet freedoms lobby group Fight for the Future praised the NYT article and asked Americans to forward it to their representatives in Congress. They also added that the technology actually used by terrorists to coordinate the attacks in Paris consisted of non-encrypted SMS messages, meaning that encryption is simply not needed in terror attacks.

The only possible goal of the government's plan for backdoors into encryption is actually to harass political opposition (which Britain's GCHQ admitted in a leaked slideshow), since militant groups and terrorists have shown no reliance on encryption anyway.

In its concluding paragraphs, the NYT article encouraged readers to ignore the lies of the CIA head John Brennan and the FBI's James Comey, who try to muddle Americans' minds by making them believe Snowden has put them at risk from terror when he has merely told the truth. If anything, the ones who are putting Americans in danger are rogue intelligence agencies.

Comey's idea that Apple and Google should ensure all software is sabotaged to be easier to decode and spy on was criticized by Fight for the Future, who said this will actually make people more vulnerable to terrorists. The NYT board concurs with this analysis, having stated, "requiring that companies build such back doors into their devices and software could make those systems much more vulnerable to hacking by criminals and spies".

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