Nothing is safe: Your medical records, trade secrets, bank accounts, credit card passwords, presumably private email–anything that goes over the Internet or through a computer connected to the Internet, any and everything is now open to prying eyes. According to NSA documents examine by the Guardian,The New York Times, and ProPublica, the NSA
has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.
Even though in the 1990’s, the NSA was not allowed to build a back door–called the Clipper Chip– into all encryption,
Paul Kocher, a leading cryptographer who helped design the SSL protocol, recalled how the N.S.A. lost the heated national debate in the 1990s about inserting into all encryption a government back door called the Clipper Chip.
“And they went and did it anyway, without telling anyone,” Mr. Kocher said. He said he understood the agency’s mission but was concerned about the danger of allowing it unbridled access to private information.
Backdoors can be inserted into software–an operating system, a mail program, a social network program–or it can be inserted into the hardware intself. Quite possible the next computer you buy will come with its own inquiring eye peering into your bank account, your medical records….
At Microsoft, as The Guardian has reported, the N.S.A. worked with company officials to get pre-encryption access to Microsoft’s most popular services, including Outlook e-mail, Skype Internet phone calls and chats, and SkyDrive, the company’s cloud storage service.
Of course, when a backdoor is built, others can find it. Perhaps more than your friendly NSA chapter finds you of particular interest. By compromising the Internet–and violating the right of Americans to privacy (to say nothing of Canadians, Frenchmen…pick your nationality), the NSA has arranged the furniture so that others can pry as well.
Or maybe those in power will wish to maintain that power. Those who support the NSA now will, of course, support any tricky Dick or Jaded Jane who finds his or herself in the Oval Office. And, of course, there are all those governmental and private employees who will never–cross hearts and hope to die–ever abuse the power suddenly at their fingertips.
It took centuries for us to learn the importance of Fourth Amendment. In just a few years, Democratic and Repulican Presidents are ready to toss it into trash can.