Tuesday, June 25, 2013

NSA Surveillance Targets Average Citizens, Not Terrorists

NSA logoNSA Surveillance Targets Average Citizens, Not Terrorists:
Much of the debate over NSA
surveillance of telephone communications and Web activity over the
past few weeks has hinged on the alleged tradeoffs between safety
and security in such snooping. "[Y]ou can't have 100 percent
security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero
inconvenience.  We're going to have to make some choices,"

President Obama. But those "choices" presuppose that
the U.S. government's virtual Panopticon actually provides some
degree of security in return for lost privacy and liberty. In an

interesting piece
at Bloomberg, Russian writer Leonid
Bershidsky argues that NSA surveillance seems peculiarly targeted
at the general population, not terrorists. "The Prism surveillance
program focuses on access to the servers of America’s largest
Internet companies, which support such popular services as Skype,
Gmail and iCloud. These are not the services that truly dangerous
elements typically use," he argues.
Bershidsky cites a 2012 report from Holland's General
Intelligence and Security Service,
Jihadism on the Web: A breeding ground for jihad in the modern
, that asks the seemingly key question, "Where do the
cool terrorists hang out online?" The report finds that terrorists
may meet in well-known social media sites, but these areas
are in the small part of the Internet that is indexed and commonly
trafficked by regular people. For exactly that reason, that's
not where plotting and planning takes place.
They meet in ‘public’ virtual places, for example on social
media, on Internet forums and in chat rooms, but also in
semi-public or private virtual places. This is where jihadist
activities and processes unfold that constitute the greatest
threat. These more private virtual places make up an important part
of the Invisible Web (by scientists also referred to as the Deep
Web, Da knet or Unde net). Unlike the visible part of the Internet,
also called Surface Web or Indexable Web, this invisible Web refers
to a part of the World Wide Web that has not (yet) been indexed and
that cannot be found by readily accessible search engines such as
Google. Scientists estimate that the invisible Web is 550 times
larger than the visible Web.
The Dutch report goes on to say that "Just like criminals and
hackers, jihadists use the invisible Web as a hiding place and do
their utmost to keep activities from being tracked. Virtual
gathering places constructed, administered and secured by fanatical
jihadists are hidden inside this invisible Web."
But the NSA's Prism specifically targets Microsoft, Yahoo,
Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple, with
promises of more high-profile companies to come. Is there value in
that? "The AIVD has found that radicalising persons erase their
social media accounts sooner or later. They consider the (mostly
American) social media to be kuffa (infidel) sites, and therefore
unacceptable and unsafe."
Instead of transmitting information in the clear through
high-profile social media, Dutch intelligence finds terrorists to
be pretty cagey and security conscious.
This security awareness manifests itself in an aggressive
promotion of safe behaviour online and an increased use of usually
free software to encrypt technical access to and communication on
the Internet. As a result, more and more jihadist actor groups are
capable of concealing their identity, their location and the
content of their communications.
So, justifying a surveillance net that focuses on Facebook and
Google by uttering the magic word "terrorism" is like rationalizing
a wide network of license-plate recognition cameras on the grounds
that you may take a snap of a "Honk if You Love Jihad"
We may be trading off privacy for something, but it
doesn't seem to be security.