Many people were too euphoric about the expiration of Section 215 of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (the whole name of the act doesn’t get printed out enough, which is a shame because somebody spent a tremendous amount of time trying to think of a backronym for USA PATRIOT) Act to take a moment to consider what it really meant. I noted that the expiration didn’t actually change anything but governments love their redundancy so the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that the National Security Agency (NSA) could resume (implying it didn’t simply continue its surveillance program after the expiration) wholesale spying on American citizens:
WASHINGTON — The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled late Monday that the National Security Agency may temporarily resume its once-secret program that systematically collects records of Americans’ domestic phone calls in bulk.
In a 26-page opinion made public on Tuesday, Judge Michael W. Mosman of the surveillance court rejected the challenge by FreedomWorks, which was represented by a former Virginia attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican. And Judge Mosman said the Second Circuit was wrong, too.
“Second Circuit rulings are not binding” on the surveillance court, he wrote, “and this court respectfully disagrees with that court’s analysis, especially in view of the intervening enactment of the USA Freedom Act.”
When the Second Circuit issued its ruling that the program was illegal, it did not issue any injunction ordering the program halted, saying it would be prudent to see what Congress did as Section 215 neared its June 1 expiration. Jameel Jaffer, an A.C.L.U. lawyer, said on Tuesday that the group would now ask for one.
Once again I find it necessary to reiterate that politics isn’t going to solve this problem. The government enjoys the ability to spy on the populace too much to give it up. No amount of begging, voting, or completely pointless filibustering by presidential hopefuls who don’t have a chance in Hell of winning the nomination is going make the NSA’s surveillance apparatus go away.
If you actually oppose this kind of spying then it is up to you to do something about it. Standing by and hoping you can vote somebody into office to deal with the problem for you isn’t going to cut it. You need to learn, encrypt, and decentralized.
The NSA’s program relies on the pervasive use of plaintext communications and centralization. Collecting plaintext, which is a term for any unencrypted data including e-mails and phone calls, costs very little outside of the taps on the lines and storage. Encrypted text is an entirely different beast. When the NSA scoops up encrypted communications it doesn’t know what it has obtained unless it is able to break the encryption. The documents leaked by Snowden showed us that the NSA had problems with numerous encryption tools including Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and Off-the-Record (OTR) messaging. Even when the NSA is able to break the encryption it’s not a costless endeavor when compared to plaintext.
Another key thing the NSA relies on is centralization. It’s much easier to surveil people when they’re all using a handful of services. With the popularity of Gmail, the fact that there are only four major cell phone carriers in the country, and how many people use Facebook a lot of data is being stored in a handful of locations, which means the NSA only needs to focus its efforts on a few key spots to spy on a vast majority of American. If more people ran their own e-mail, XMPP, etc. servers it would increase the NSA’s costs as it would have to spread out its efforts. Utilizing decentralized networks, such as Wi-Fi mesh networks, instead of centralized Internet Service Providers (ISP) would even further complicate the NSA’s efforts.
Fighting the NSA’s surveillance apparatus requires increasing the agency’s costs. That can only be done by the ubiquitous use of encryption and decentralizing infrastructure. Don’t be a lazy libertarian, start learning how to utilize cryptographic tools today. As always I’m here to help.