Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

Reset the Net

Bamford, Snowdon and the NSA

Back in June I finished reading a book called The Shadow Factory by James Bamford. I’ve read a few of his books now (The Puzzle Palace and Body of Secrets), all about the world of spying, and the NSA. This book, his most recent of the three, was published back in 2008, and what it reveals is actually a lot of familiar stuff related to the topic of NSA “whistleblower” Edward Snowden, which I have to admit, I’ve neglected to follow.

This book covers so much, and just like the other books, I’ve found it all very fascinating, but then a challenge to decide “where to begin?” if I’m to write something about what I’ve read. It was while I was looking through my notes on the final chapter about the future of the NSA, where Bamford looks at the latest developments within the organisation and where technology is leading us, that I casually googled “Google NSA” to see what links it would throw up. That was when I first heard about the “Reset the Net” campaign.

Reset the net

The event marked the first anniversary of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Administration’s extensive and illegal dragnet surveillance apparatus.

The official website explains that:

A year after the first NSA revelation, the US Congress has failed to protect our rights. Starting today, June 5th, we’re taking steps to directly block government surveillance on the Internet…

The history of phone and web tapping

The thing is, what Snowdon revealed wasn’t unknown – it just wasn’t in the public’s face. As Bamford reveals in The Shadow Factory, the NSA has been tapping phone lines for decades, and as the internet developed the NSA tapped into that too. The chances are that what you do online, the data that transfers to and from your computer as you browse, check e-mails, or do online banking, passes through NSA systems.

Resetting the net, or resetting our attitudes?

With this in mind, the idea of ‘simply’ resetting the net, and having an internet without this multi-billion dollar ‘thing’ tacked on seems, well, unlikely.

It’s not just the physical act of switching off those unwanted systems, but it’s everything that goes with it. I’m not suggesting the internet wouldn’t work without them, but rather, when there is such a vast government or corporate program in operation, there is a whole underlying community too – that’s people and jobs.

Therefore, requesting that the net be reset is not what is required, it’s attitudes, it’s the whole system that needs to be reset, and by ‘whole’ I mean right from government, politics and corporations, right down to how we all live as individuals, how we all earn our daily bread and keep a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. “We’ve” developed this whole system whereby there are systems, like the NSA, that exist “simply” to support the system.

Am I being vague? What is this system I speak of? Well, it’s the system that provides its people with more and more money and “stuff” – stuff that most of us to aspire to – material things, a certain lifestyle – nothing is simple any more and so the system isn’t either. As human beings we can actually survive on very little – only a few basic things: food, air and water, and the right environment. It is the system that is dictating what is the “right” environment. If we don’t want that part of the system any more, a part that seems to needlessly spy on us (while claiming to be keeping us safe), the whole system needs to change. We need to change. We need to feel safe and secure with only simple things. But the opposite seems to be true – we’re made to feel unsafe and unsecure – governments will claim we’re at war, a war against people who threaten our so-called freedoms. Sure some attacks are hard to ignore, but is the extent of such a threat exaggerated, just to maintain the system?

Living without

We could survive without the internet, just as we did, as a species, for hundreds of thousands of years, and many of us have done in our younger years, but right now, in this phase of our existence (I won’t use the terms ‘evolution’ or ‘development’) few of us want that, so it’s a case of ensuring we’re on the right track as a species, in fact, as a planet of species.

Are systems that listen in on our communications, monitor our browsing habits, analyse and predict our search terms and what we’re going to do next, healthy ones? Could all this gathering and processing lead us from being as free as we think we are, to being less free – living as a dictatorship, as Bamford and others fear? I think it is a possibility, but while the resetthenet campaign is against “mass government surveillance” it is supported by the likes of Google.

Supporting a system you don’t condone

Product’s of Google are laced throughout the web, from being the most popular search engine (a system which can surely be used in a similar way to that of government mass surveillance), down to the Operating System on our phones (Google’s Android OS being a close second behind Apple’s iOS on both mobile and tablet devices). Increasingly, popular devices can monitor a lot of what we do online, it’s a facility many boast, second guessing our browsing habits, when we wake up, when we go to work, what we eat, how much exercise we do, what route we take to get there, what music we like to listen to and what books we read – all these facilities (and more) are provided through apps, and many people use them without a second thought of what gathering all this data up could mean, and how it could be used, or abused.

As the website helps to show, there are steps we can take as individuals to make it more difficult for people to listen in on what we do online. One of these things was actually revealed to me a earlier this year on the BBC Click technology program, when the presenter talked about the Edward Snowden case. This is the use of TAILS and TOR.

But that isn’t the way things are going. More things are becoming more complicated, and more online. Just recently in the UK it was announced that certain public services would no longer have telephone facility – everyone would have to go online. This is usually done, it is claimed, to save money because things are seen as being more simple when everything can be done this way – like call centres are expensive to operate. Personally I don’t think it adds up this way – if fewer people have such jobs, but expensive computer systems need to be set up and maintained, something has to give financially.


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This entry was posted on 19 October, 2014 by in Computers, Internet, News, Politics, Psychology, Technology and tagged , , , , , , .
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