Monday’s seem to be my day to rant over something I saw while skimming the news at lunch. Today’s rant is prompted by the article “Report: Spy agencies collude to gather personal data from mobile apps” in PCWorld. Thanks to Snowden’s disclosures, the world appears to be up in arms that spy agencies are (heaven forfend) spying, and (heaven forfend again) spying quite possibly on them.
Guess what. That’s their job. It’s in their name. They are spy agencies.
Think about this: Imagine you are the head of a spy agency. Imagine you have been tasked to find enemies who are tasked with harming the country you are sworn to protect and defend. Wouldn’t you do anything you could think of to find them? In this quest, would you care at all about the other information gathered along the way that shows people who might be people? Probably not. That stuff is chaff, not the nuggets of grain you want. You have to sort through a hella lot of chaff to find the occasional grain.
So why is everyone up in arms about this? I opine there are two reasons.
First, there is a growing distrust of government and government agencies, egged on by the wackos and conspiracy theorists whose voices are amplified by the Internets. Read any newspaper during WWII. There were much much more flagrant violations of rights during those times than today, but they were swept under the rug. People no longer trust government, and no longer believe it is working in their interest. That’s why they are scared. It is also a significant concern independent of the spying — we need to restore the faith that the government is on the side of the people. [Or, as some might argue, we need to restore government that is on the side of the people. Both views beg the question of what “on the side of the people” means.]
Second, there is a growing surprise that the government can find out as much as they can. Part of that, my friends, is on all of our backs. We’ve been so eager to adopt new technology before it is mature, and before the security and privacy safeguards have been designed and are strong. Is it any surprise that designed-in weaknesses are exploited? Similarly, we have failed to keep our laws up to date with all the facets of technology. So is it any surprise that people are exploiting those laws?
So spy agencies spy. It’s the scorpion and the frog all over again. What should we do about it all?
First, work with lawmakers to enact updated laws that appropriately protect privacy while providing national security and dealing with current and future technology.
Second, vow not to adopt the latest and greatest until you know it provides you a level of protection that you want. Let companies know you’re willing to pay for security, not go cheap for compromises.
Third, understand where the threat lies. The government could care less about the chaff. Big business, on the other hand, loves the chaff. They mine it, research it, learn your habits, so that they can sell you more and more. Remember: if it is free, you are the product. Be careful who you give your information to.