Unless you’ve been hiding in the woods since the beginning of June, the words PRISM and XKeystore and the name Edward Snowden should be familiar to you. But there is no harm in refreshing your memory a little:
Edward Snowden was an employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton at the National Security Agency (NSA), the central producer and manager of signals intelligence for the United States. During his employment at the NSA, Snowden gained access to some of the US government’s most highly-classified secrets. On May 20, he arrived in Hong Kong with four laptops with classified documents and on June 1, he was interviewed by two Guardian journalists.
On June 5 The Guardian breaked its first exclusive story based on the documents Snowden gained access to, revealing a secret court order showing that the US government had forced the telecoms giant Verizon to hand over the phone records of millions of Americans. The next day, a second story revealed the existence of the previously undisclosed programme PRISM, which internal NSA documents claim gives the agency “direct access” to data held by Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants.
The tech companies naturally deny that they have set up “back door access” to their systems for the US government. Admitting such a thing could potentially be commercial suicide for the companies. But, for all intents and purposes, we can assume that these back doors exists. Why? First off all; it’s every intelligence agency, security agency and nervous government’s wet dream: To know just about everything about everyone. And considering how much we use the internet today, it’s a fantastic source of information. Secondly; it’s not that much of a technical challenge to get the kind of back door access PRISM is supposed to have. Install a man-in-the-middle at the right location, and you can listen in on pretty much everything. And last, but not least, all the companies can easily be persuaded to comply: Install the back doors or you’re not allowed to operate. This has happened before and one example is BlackBerry: The company was not allowed to operate in India for some time because the Indian government was unable to intercept BlackBerry’s secure corporate mail and messaging services.
But why should you care about PRISM, the NSA and that your own and foreign governments are listening in on everything you say and reading everything you write? The average citizen, and it’s a pretty good chance you are an average citizen, isn’t doing or planning to do anything illegal. So does it really matter that they know everything about you and every move you make?
Yes. Yes, it does. It actually matters a great deal and here’s why.