The revelation of the Prism programme run by the US National Security Agency (NSA), and shared with the world by fugitive Edward Snowden has been shocking, but somewhat expected.
My personal view is that any government, democratic or totalitarian, likes power and information these days directly translates to the power.
However, what has been even more shocking is the lax approach by US politicians who clearly lost their grip on the NSA and other three letter agencies – all in the name of “national security”.
The shockwaves will tremor the Atlantic pond between the US and Europe for months to come and some changes in the snooping programme might be expected.
However, the question that has not been answered is: Does the Prism programme pose danger to the US government?
I believe it does on several fronts:
First, the data that the government collects is a treasure trove that other countries or large organisations including underground ones, would like to get their hands on.
Read more about Prism and the NSA
- Security Think Tank: Prism – Sitting duck or elaborate honeypot?
- NSA surveillance whistleblower reveals identity
- US repeatedly hacked China, claims NSA whistleblower
- FBI spies on internet users
- UK links to US internet surveillance remain unclear
- Technology companies call for more transparency over data requests
- Compliance: The Edward Snowden, NSA program controversy continues
Can we believe that the NSA, FBI and CIA, with approximately 100,000 authorised users can keep the data safe? Certainly, the leakages of the government secrets so far show that such an objective is beyond reach and is most likely just wishful thinking.
Second, there is going be retaliation towards the US and other nations that are perceived to have breached the “moral” code of the internet.
We have all seen what a determined group of highly-skilled cyber hackers/vigilantes can do. These attacks are most likely to embarrass US government, rather than cause real damage though; unless the US national critical infrastructure is still connected to the internet.
I bet this is the question that committees in Congress are asking. We can only speculate on the answers.
Finally, we all know that the world’s governments and large enterprises are spying on their enemies, competitors, and allies. That has been happening for centuries, and the internet simply made these activities much easier.
However, snooping on everyone on this planet who is connected to the internet, with the presumption that “you have nothing to hide if innocent”, is calling for an urgent review of these practices.
History shows that information is power and that is easily abused. This comes from someone who grew up in the communist era and has heard that “all these activities are legal” too many times.
Vladimir Jirasek is managing director of Jirasek Consulting Services
This was first published in July 2013