What this adds up to is a new thing in human history: with a couple of clicks of a mouse, an agent of the state can target your home phone, or your mobile, or your email, or your passport number, or any of your credit card numbers, or your address, or any of your log-ins to a web service. Using that "selector", the state can get access to all the content of your communications, via any of those channels; can gather information about anyone you communicate with, can get a full picture of all your internet use, can track your location online and offline. It can, in essence, know everything about you, including – thanks to the ability to look at your internet searches – what's on your mind.If it isn't disturbing to you that the government has this knowledge, consider how easy it was for Edward Snowden to steal it. He downloaded 58,000 pages of secure data and saved it to various storage devices without anyone noticing. In the US, 480,000 government contractors have the same Top Secret clearance as Snowden did. Of course such knowledge is compartmentalized, but the NSA must employ hundreds of mainly young, computer savvy men to do what Snowden did. Thousands of people probably have access to your whole digital life. How hard would it be for Russia or Iran or Fox News to corrupt one of those young men and get him to pass on the records of one or two people?
To get a rough version of this knowledge, a state once had to bug phones manually, break into houses and intercept letters, and deploy teams of trained watchers to follow your whereabouts. Even then it was a rough and approximate process, vulnerable to all sorts of human error and countermeasures. It can now have something much better than that, a historically unprecedented panoply of surveillance, which it can deploy in a matter of seconds.
This process is not without supervision, of course. In order to target you via one of these "selectors" – that's the technical term – the agent of the state will have to type into a box on his or her computer screen a Miranda number, to show that the process is taking place in response to a specific request for information, and will also need to select a justification under the Human Rights Act. That last isn't too arduous, because the agent can choose the justification from a drop-down menu. This is the way we live now.
Saturday, October 5, 2013
The Snowden Files
The Guardian asked novelist John Lanchester, who is something of a security hawk, to spend a week reading through the trove of documents brought to life by Edward Snowden. Most of the activity, he says, is the sort of stuff you want the government to be doing -- tracking suspected terrorists and terrorist fundraisers, watching out for the hacking of secure computer systems. But the system gives analysts of the NSA and its British equivalents powers that Lanchester finds disturbing: