When civil liberties are trumped and communications intercepted

WWII spy poster courtesy Ars Technica
WWII spy poster courtesy Ars Technica

It’s interesting that though the US regularly flaunts with impunity the very standards of human rights they pontificate in other countries, and spend billions of dollars through developmental programmes and conditional aid mechanisms to strengthen globally, that reports of the violation of civil liberties are dealt with seriously and in the public gaze.

A recent example comes from Ars Technica, that quotes an ABC report about two whistle-blowers who claim that the NSA “routinely listened in on the phone calls of ordinary Americans, journalists, aid workers, and military personnel who were living in the Middle East and calling friends and loved ones back in the US”.

“… these operators allege that it was common practice at the NSA facility to not only record the phone conversations of ordinary Americans with no connection whatsoever to terrorism, but to single out the exchanges that were somehow novel or salacious for sharing, ridicule, and general discussion… In spite of the fact that the agents believed intercepting such calls to be pointless, they were nonetheless ordered to record them and transcribe them anyway. The fact that the NSA remains interested in these calls even after they’re identified as non-terrorism-related is truly remarkable, and it leads me to believe that the information collected is being archived for data mining purposes.”

It’s possible that multi-stakeholder, internationl clandestine intel operations such as Echelon have been upgraded to deal with communications intercepts in a far more pervasive manner even outside the Middle East, but the allegation that calls not even remotely connected to terrorism were logged raises questions about privacy and security on the web and the raison d’etre of covert information monitoring programmes such as those run by the US government under the over-broad mandate of national security.

With allegations that Skype has backdoor entries for interested parties to monitor communications, and news in China, Skype actually aided censorship are two recent reminders that ostensibly encrypted and secure communications are also very open to scrutiny by third parties.

What do you think?

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