Time and again people ask me why I don’t involve myself in political activism to stop mass surveillance. My answer is doing so is pointless because no matter how hard you beg the state it will never handicap itself. Case in point, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring (USA FREEDOM) Act (I hope a staffer was paid a nice bonus for coming up with that acronym). It has been hailed as a solution to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance practices. However the bill, as so often is the case, does the opposite of what its name implies and advocates claim. Instead of curtailing NSA surveillance the bill codifies it:
After only one hour of floor debate, and no allowed amendments, the House of Representatives today passed legislation that seeks to address the NSA’s controversial surveillance of American communications. However, opponents believe it may give brand new authorization to the U.S. government to conduct domestic dragnets.
However, the legislation may not end bulk surveillance and in fact could codify the ability of the government to conduct dragnet data collection.
“We’re taking something that was not permitted under regular section 215 … and now we’re creating a whole apparatus to provide for it,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said on Tuesday night during a House Rules Committee proceeding.
“The language does limit the amount of bulk collection, it doesn’t end bulk collection,” Rep. Amash said, arguing that the problematic “specific selection term” allows for “very large data collection, potentially in the hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even millions.”
In a statement posted to Facebook ahead of the vote, Rep. Amash said the legislation “falls woefully short of reining in the mass collection of Americans’ data, and it takes us a step in the wrong direction by specifically authorizing such collection in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.”
Political activism can’t solve problems. At most is can be used to convince the state to rewrite its rules, and then only temporarily, so that it can continue doing the same thing but claim it isn’t. The only way widespread surveillance can be curtailed is if every one of us begins encrypting all of our communications. Even if some of us utilize weak cryptography it will still increase the overall cost of operating the system. Clear text requires no resources to read. Weak cryptography still requires some resources to identify the algorithm(s) used and to reverse them. Furthermore the text of any encrypted communication is unknown to the eavesdropper until it’s unencrypted. Strong cryptographic tools, on the other hand, are practically (as in the time required is longer than the information’s usefulness) impossible for spies to crack.
Stop begging the state to neuter its spying capabilities and take back your privacy. A good place to start is to begin utilizing tools that allow secure communications.