It’s the sort of thing you would have expected if George Orwell and Jules Verne had been contemporaries and collaborated on a novel. The Department of Defense creates a vast Hypertext Transfer Protocol Network and allows the private sector to take it over and expand it worldwide. Rather than passing through the pesky step of securing private data through the system’s service providers, the government simply taps into the data as it passes through the undersea fiber optic cables stretching from one continent to another. Suddenly the World Wide Web is one vast party line, at least from the NSA’s perspective.
That’s the theory presently being promulgated by investigative reporters with the New York Times. According to The Times‘ article, NSA May Have Hit Internet Companies at a Weak Spot , the data centers belonging to companies like Yahoo and Google are “are locked down with full-time security and state-of-the-art surveillance, including heat sensors and iris scanners.” If anything, it’s easier for government spies to tap the Level 3 Communications Infrastructure, the so-called backbone of the World Wide Web, made up of high capacity optic fiber cables owned by companies like Verizon, the BT Group, and the Vodafone Group.
Nearly everything you and I do online passes through this backbone in route to its final destination. I guess you can say that the NSA has taken up global spinal tapping: sampling the flow of information for infectious or inflammatory elements.
In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Vernes wrote “The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe… It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.”
This statement is perhaps more true now than ever before. The sea is a very busy place indeed. And the NSA is one very busy body.
It’s the sort of thing we would have expected the Soviets to do if they had survived into the new millennia: intercept laptop deliveries and install malware so they can spy on users. For those of us Baby Boomers who grew up during the cold war when we condemned the enemy for spying on its citizens, intrusions of this nature are untenable. However, I wonder if the millennials have been partially inoculated against feeling that same level of rage when they’re being monitored. A growing number of parents are keeping a close eye on their teens by installing camcorders in their rooms, tracking their every movement by way of their phones’ GPS devices, and demanding their children’s Facebook and E-Mail passwords so that they can read what they’re posting and what they’re receiving.
A teenage boy and longtime family friend recently posted a plea on his Facebook page for his friends to be careful with their comments. “My parents read everything I post and if they don’t like it they make me take it down. If they don’t like what my friends write, they tell me to unfriend them.”
Some parents have even installed the same type of spyware on their children’s computers that the NSA is installing on computers-in-transit: a program which allows the voyeur to monitor what is being typed on the user’s screen in real time. These young people will either become anaesthetized to those in power looking over their shoulder or they will find ever newer and more creative ways to elude surveillance.
When I recently had lunch with a university student who is majoring in a foreign language, she told me she would eventually like to work for U. S. intelligence. “Maybe I’ll become a translator and I’ll get to be one of those people who listens in on everyone’s phone calls. I know it’s wrong but it would be an interesting job.”
What’s bugging you and your office these days? It might just be the NSA. Good luck finding a pest control company to take care of that.