So, this week people are getting pretty exercised about how the NSA, in some super secret operation code named “PRISM,” has been watching everything people are looking at on the web and keeping track of what phone calls are being made and received. Wil Wheaton posted on Google+ that he’s gonna cancel all his Verizon phone lines. Lemme know how that works out for you, Wil, I wanna know what company you’re going to find that isn’t going to turn their data over to the NSA.
I am an old fogey, apparently. I remember when folks on alt.cypherpunks were all exercised about the NSA monitoring Internet traffic back in the late 1980s. Back then, people were talking about using crypto to hide the contents of their email, using steganography to hide messages in images, and even more stuff. Now people try to use TOR to hide the endpoints of their web surfing. But here’s the deal: back then, crypto only worked for making the contents of the email opaque. The surveillance being done under PRISM isn’t concerned with content; it’s looking at the fact that a message was sent from one person to another. This isn’t new. That doesn’t make it okay — I still think it’s creepy — but I’m kind of surprised that people are surprised that this information is being gathered and looked at.
We’ve already got this notion of contagion in American law: if you live with or associate with a person who’s a gang member, you’re a gang member according to the police. I don’t know for sure but it’s not too big a stretch for me to imagine some creative DA making the step from “gang contagion” to “terrorism contagion.” Given how the politicians are all beating the terrorism drum, I see this as a natural move.
Bottom line: Edward Snowden was not wrong when he talked about the security apparatus being the Panopticon. What are you gonna do about it? Gonna stop making and receiving telephone calls, gonna stop sending and receiving email, gonna stop using the Internet? Gonna go completely off the online grid?