Imagine a world where there is a secret society with the capacity of listening into all sort of private communications all the time. This organisation has managed to build backdoors into hardware that allows them to check on sensitive data throughout the world seemingly at the click of a button. They can spy on you, on your government, on your industries. One day some brave souls blow the whole thing open and publish the details of this unprecedented level of surveillance; governments fall, heads roll, there are universal calls to make privacy a priority. An outraged populace makes the redress of such widespread violation of trust a political priority.
We live in a similar world to the one described, except with regards to the outrage and calls for action. In perhaps one of the most eye-opening series of articles that I have read in a long time, Jacob Applebaum and a team from Der Spiegel unearthed some truly frightening details about the NSA’s powerful hacking unit, the Tailored Access Operations (TAO), which specialises in breaking into a target’s every communication by tinkering with their access points to the network. In other articles, details about the NSA’s plans to reach everyone in the planet through tapping into the cables that make the very backbone of the Internet were confirmation of what many of us suspected.
It is difficult to be surprised in the post-Snowden world, but even the most cynical observer must be stocking up on tinfoil hats after the latest spat of revelations. So where is the international outrage? It is clear that governments are being actively spied on by the NSA, and nobody is safe. Where are the widespread condemnations? Why is it that the only angry people appear to be the geeks?
It is possible that we are failing to explain the reach of the surveillance that has been deployed against every Internet user. It may be that privacy is not really a concern for the public. It is possible that people have bought the old fallacy that you have nothing to fear if you are a law-abiding citizen. Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above.
Maybe it is up to the technical elite to offer alternatives to the snoop-fest Internet that we currently have, but I am increasingly pessimistic about the capacity of the public to understand the threats presented to them. Resistance is futile, you will all be assimilated.
If only the NSA helped me find my lost keys, I might also give up.