Just Call the NSA Skynet
President Obama gave a speech today outlining some of the changes that will be happening at the NSA. The biggest outcomes of the speech are that the U.S. will be limiting the “bulk data” policies that have stored millions of Americans’ phone records as well as placing a limit of two additional contacts from that of an initial target (the “two-hop” rule) when it comes to investigations. But the most notable surveillance program that remains untouched is that of cyber-surveillance.
This type of spying has garnered little coverage in the criticisms of the NSA. It is also one of the most troubling. Americans were up in arms knowing that the government might have records of the phone calls they were making, not stopping to think that the “bulk data” that was getting stored only included who you called and not the actual content of your call. But it’s what the NSA is doing with computers and the internet that should have conspiracy theorists in a tizzy.
Ever heard of the PRISM program? In short, the U.S. government has wire-tapped the internet, an easy task as it has partnered with Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft and most of the world’s electronic communications pass through the United States. But to be honest, that is lightweight stuff.
The Mission: Impossible, James Bond type stuff is where it really gets interesting. The government has also implanted software in foreign computers that uses radio waves to gain access to computers that other countries have tried to protect from spying or cyberattacks. It has reportedly been used to monitor China’s army, the Russian military, drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union, and sometime U.S. partners against terrorism. All of this just to keep us safe.
I’m not saying this is bad, and I’m not saying this is good. But it does speak to the world that we live in today. It also speaks to the covert work that our government does to keep the things that go bump in the night in the shadows. What is most disturbing is this paradox: the only way it remains effective is if it remains secret, but if it remains secret, we’ll never know what is actually going down. Support for this work is predicated on trust. But if folks can’t trust each other on reality TV shows like Survivor, how are we supposed to trust the NSA?
So yes, the U.S. government has eyes everywhere. And if R-rated movies from the 90’s are to be believed, we are now just one step away from the computers figuring out that we are useless and wiping us off the planet. Skynet is creeping up on us. Slowly creeing but creeping nonetheless. Just sayin’.
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