This is terrifying. If you are too lazy/apathetic to read the somewhat lengthy Guardian article, here is a summary: the US and UK governments have broken most of the encryption used on the internet. They have had 2 major breakthroughs that allow them to read pretty much any encrypted traffic (think bank account info, medical records, all of your passwords, etc.). First, they seem to have developed a method for using supercomputers to break some encryption schemes quickly enough to be useful for decrypting massive amounts of data. Second, and much more troubling, the NSA has managed to coerce/cajole/trick encryption software developers into weakening their products in ways known only to the NSA. To the server and the client (Amazon and you, for example), it would appear as if the connection was fully encrypted. However, there would be a backdoor for the NSA to see what you’re up to. Of course, that backdoor would also be pretty useful to anyone else that found it.
In my opinion, this is the most important story of the year so far. The government has broken–destroyed, really–the thing that lets us trust each other on the internet for commerce and other private transactions. I always assumed that the NSA could break consumer-grade encryption if it really wanted to, but that it would be difficult and time-consuming, and therefore limited to instances where the target was already known or strongly suspected to be a Bad Guy. I am shocked and appalled to find that they can listen in to pretty much anything they want, or just gather up what I thought were my private communications for whatever future purpose they find for them. I think if most Americans had any idea what this story means, there would be massive unrest and quite possibly enough pressure brought to bear on the cowards of Congress to do their job by reining in the executive branch by whatever means necessary–from defunding the NSA to impeaching President Obama. Unfortunately, I know how most of my neighbors will react to this (if they even notice the story under the continuing headlines about Miley Cyrus’s skimpy outfit):
“You only have to worry if you have something to hide!”
“What do I care if the government knows I bought Brokeback Mountain from Amazon with my Visa card? It’s maxed out anyway, they can have the account! Hyukhyukhyuk!”
Right now, it doesn’t seem like something that could affect fine upstanding citizens like them. Right now, they can’t even imagine how this governmental power could be used against them. Right now, this program is only being used to keep us safe from terrorists, right? Right now, my fellow Americans cannot imagine a future where the government would turn this terrible power on anyone else (you know, other than all Muslims, or young men of color, or pot farmers in states that have legalized marijuana to whatever degree, or “traitors” like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden).
I sure hope that the price for this collective lack of imagination isn’t too high, but I fear what the future will bring.