What does the NSA think of your personal life? =) Why Uncle Sam is just another hacker now


If you want to know what some folks in the federal government think of your privacy, just look at that smiley face.

If you want to know what stands between your personal life becoming public — well, it’s that smiley face.

And when future generations scream at us because we didn’t prevent the digital revolution from becoming a digital police state, I guess we’ll just show them that smiley face.

By now, for most of you, constant revelations about NSA digital surveillance have made you numb.  “I get it,” I can hear you thinking. “They see everything.  What can I do? I give up.”

I hope the smiley face changes your mind.  I hope it makes you angry. Because it shows how serious this issue is to those who are hacking into our personal lives using every trick they can imagine.

Not very.

Since the early Edward Snowden revelations, there have been hearings with well-dressed important people making speeches.  There have been assurances from the White House that no one is listening to our phone calls.  There have been sober-sounded warnings that say we should let the professionals do what they do so we can prevent another 9/11.  Many of you, I’m sure, have wanted to give Uncle Sam the benefit of the doubt, and there have been convincing arguments that the NSA and FBI have limited their operations to legal collection of digital data.

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But now we have the truth. Uncle Sam is just a hacker.  I wonder what his goofy handle is? Hax0r4freedumb?

In yet another scoop, the Washington Post yesterday revealed that the NSA is tapping directly into traffic being sent around the world by Google and Yahoo. The firms do this for a variety of reasons, including synchronization to ensure your data is backed up.  When data flows through a gateway that connects the firms’ private network and the public internet, it is briefly unencrypted. That’s when the NSA swoops in and vacuums up our personal lives, according to the document published by the Post.

“SSL added and removed here” the drawing says. And then, there’s that smiley face.

As a friend told me, it’s the kind of drawing you’d expect to see during a presentation at DEF CON, the annual hacker convention in Las Vegas, famous for pre-pubescent computer stunts.  It makes me wonder: Whatever high-ranking NSA official drew this picture, what did he or she do next? Hack the radio signals at the McDonald’s drive-thru nearby?

I love hackers, and I love clever stunts. I love the way they break things, the way they don’t take their work too seriously, and the way they’ll attack you when you do. Virtually all the world’s important inventions have been the result of hacking — tinkering, if you prefer that word.  But I don’t want someone tinkering with the most important questions of our time.

The next time someone tries to convince you that the immense digital power wielded by the federal government’s three-letter agencies is handled with great care — the next time someone tells you to stop bothering the feds and let them do their very important work uninhibited — draw them a smiley face.

We need adults running this operation.  Now.


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About Bob Sullivan 1648 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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