The end of privacy as we know it

August 07, 2013

I remember Eric Schmidt saying something to the effect of "if you don't want something to be publicly known, don't post it on the internet". But as we have seen with the deeper proliferation of 'social media' on our lives, we can't stop but share every moment of our lives online. There are specialized channels for us to share different types of content. I'm not here to rave about how the definition of words 'share', 'like' and 'social' has been perverted changed over the last few years.

There are enormous psychological and social effects of social media about which tons has already been written. This post has been motivated by what we have lately learned about all that has been going on in the past many years unbeknownst to mere mortals outside the high echelons of the government and corporates that we so willingly give all our information to.

The latest revelation regarding what governments are keeping from their citizens was done by Edward Snowden who sought refuge in Hong Kong and is currently in Russia. The US government has charged him with Espionage Act, among others. Previously, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks (also see: The Fifth Estate) have been charged with accounts of passing private information to the enemy. While I am no one to judge the ramifications of what they have done, I do have one question. What about James Clapper, the head of the NSA, who lied to the Congress about the existence of PRISM, the gargantuan data-collection program which the NSA is using to collect data from various software companies' servers; which in turn, happens to be data of every individual, US citizen or not, who uses websites and services of these companies.

This week a new incident followed the already snowballing set of activities in this space. The founder of Tor network was arrested after the government agencies intercepted and added malware to the Tor network and Freedom Hosting using infected nodes. The Tor client, which was Mozilla Firefox ESR 17, had a vulnerability which was compromised in this attack. Here is the source code of the malware. Apparently this malware was collecting data and sending to an IP which was one of the many IPs assigned to the government agencies. Exactly who was controlling it, is not yet clear.

Security expert Bruce Schneier has this to say about the NSA surveillance. I used to have a lot of respect for America because of what it stood for. Those values seem to be decaying. The 'land of the free; home of the brave' is the one which is now headed to prosecute the people who told the public what their government is secretly doing with their personal data. This sounds a lot like 'shoot the messenger' to me. As Carlin used to say, the only American value that has remained, is buying things.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, I will leave you with one word: 1984.