Pondering Life in a PRISM World

Not a single week goes by here in the Linux blogosphere without some assortment of news and events to keep life interesting.

It’s not often, however, that something comes along with the magnitude of PRISM.

Linux Girl was comfortably ensconced on her favorite barstool when the news broke down at the Punchy Penguin Saloon, and it’s been chaos ever since. More than a few Freedom Flip cocktails later, she’s just now begun to write up her notes chronicling what will surely go down in history as one of the blogosphere’s most somber conversations ever.

What will you do differently, Linux Girl asked bloggers, now that we know about PRISM?

‘When the U.S. Was a Free Country’

Linux Girl“PRISM won’t change my habits at all, because I have long assumed that every packet could be snooped upon, and if I had any incriminating data, I wouldn’t be storing it online,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza offered.

“People who do not use encryption for sensitive communications have failed to learn lessons of history that go back at least to the ancient Romans,” Espinoza added.

Similarly, “I don’t see any way that changing my use of technology would affect my situation,” Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien agreed. “The government has way more in the way of resources than I can bring to bear here. I am just going to nostalgically recall when the U.S. was a free country.”

PRISM “wasn’t a big surprise,” Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone agreed. “It’s really just confirmation of something I already ‘knew.’

‘Why Freak Out Now?’

“Considering the existence of systems like ECHELON and legislation like the Patriot Act, PRISM is about as surprising as the sun rising in the East,” Stone explained.

“There’s a niggling little part of my brain that tells me to lock everything down: move to a Linux system where everything is compiled from source rather than trusting DEBs or RPMs and funnel all my internet traffic through an offshore VPN and a TOR network,” he added. “Move as many services in-house as possible and encrypt everything.”

Then again, “the rest of my brain just says that you already suspected this kind of thing, and you did nothing then, why freak out now?” Stone said.

“I don’t like the violation that accompanies PRISM, and I disagree with the government’s stance that the constant monitoring of its citizens is ‘required’ to keep them safe, but I’m not really going to change my habits,” he concluded. “I’m going to contact my congressperson regarding the issue and I’m going to vote.”

‘There Is No Magic Bullet’

Anyone who was surprised by the revelation “hasn’t been paying attention,” Google+ blogger Brett Legree told Linux Girl.

In any case, “as a Canadian citizen, I will be sure to let family, friends and colleagues know that our country has various ‘sharing agreements’ in place with the United States, and I will remind them that we do have similar programs in place,” he said. “I can’t imagine that there are many countries on Earth that do not do this these days.”

Legree will also “continue to remind people (as I have for many years) that whatever they share electronically MUST be treated as if it will be on the front page of every major news publication, paper and digital,” he added. “I will remind them to keep their critical and confidential information on systems they trust, offline and backed up redundantly, and I will help them to do this if they do not know how to do it themselves.”

It’s important to remember, though, that “there is no ‘magic bullet’ solution,” Legree warned. Even if you switch to Linux, use ownCloud, host your own email, encrypt all communications and use disposable SIM cards with your phone, for example, “how can you trust that everyone you know, and everyone they know, and so on out to six degrees of freedom, will do the same?

“You cannot,” he concluded.

‘Everyone Is Uncomfortable’

PRISM’s surveillance has global implications, Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. told Linux Girl.

“Everyone is feeling very uncomfortable with this story,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a good person, citizen, professional, a pacifist… you are being watched.”

Personally, “my use of technology will remain almost the same,” Gonzalo Velasco C. added. “Of course, I feel less comfortable with Google and try to use systems and software that are said to be less vulnerable or cooperative with ‘Big Brother.’

“Why? Because I have the right to do so,” he concluded.

‘What Is the Point of Worrying?’

“If you had asked me two weeks ago how would I feel about a PRISM-like system conducting surveillance on my online activities, I probably would have been upset,” began Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor. “PRISM actually targets me, since I am not a U.S. citizen or resident.”

Now, however, “is there anything I would do differently? The answer is no, and I am not too worried about it,” Lim said. “The reality is, there is little I can do about it, so what is the point of worrying?

“What this does underscore is we do need a Switzerland of the Internet and local companies in that country to offer email, messaging and cloud storage services,” he concluded.

‘It Is Necessary’

“I think PRISM is a necessary evil,” Google+ Rodolfo Saenz suggested.

“It is necessary to scan Internet activities with advanced, intelligent, scanning algorithms taking advantage of human mistakes made by potential terrorists, especially those who are troubled, mentally speaking, and reveal their intentions through the use of social networks,” he explained.

Of course, “the effectiveness of PRISM remains to be seen because of the rise of terrorist acts made recently,” Saenz conceded.

‘It Weakens Society’

“Terrorists can adapt to non-use of telephone/Internet just as Osama bin Laden did,” countered blogger Robert Pogson. “Despite $billions spent, it took many years to hunt him down.

“PRISM and other such blunt instruments will not discourage alert terrorists,” he opined. “Further, terrorists could use PRISM to set false alarms or to entrap responders.”

In short, “no technology can solve the problem — technology always has counter-measures,” he explained.

“Compare terrorism with computer viruses,” Pogson added. “We don’t stop using computers because viruses exist. We cannot eliminate viruses, but we can harden our computers.”

PRISM, however, “is not hardening our society,” he concluded. “It weakens society by violating fundamentals of the constitution.”

Two Key Pieces

The first key part of this story “is that the government can effectively deputize any U.S.-based business and compel them to spy on Americans and others,” offered Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project..

“The second is the fact that so many American tech giants went out of their way to facilitate the NSA’s surveillance measures through PRISM,” Travers added.

“Whether or not this was a fairly automated way to get court-approved information or direct access to the backbone, such automation expands the amount of information available to the NSA and therefore make such requests more intrusive and more frequent,” he explained.

‘It’s All There’

All in all, “it just goes to show that Bill Hicks was right when he did that joke, ‘I think the puppet on the left shares MY beliefs. I think the puppet on the right is more to my liking. Hey wait a minute, there is one guy holding out both puppets!'” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told Linux Girl.

“There is NO difference between left and right; all we have in this country is right-wing and ultra right-wing, nothing else,” he explained.

“Whether we like it or not, we are going from a free to a nonfree society, and all the signs that followed previous shifts — places where torture takes place where the rule of law doesn’t exist, spying on citizens, checkpoints designed for intimidating the populace, a media that is in bed with and is often just the mouthpiece of the government, hyped threats — it’s ALL there,” hairyfeet went on.

“You get the populace used to more and more abuse until an event (whether real and hyped or staged), and then the society is ‘temporarily’ locked down, only the threat is designed such as to be never-ending,” he said.

“The people in Germany went from a free society in 1930 to a locked-down dictatorship by 1935, it was THAT quick,” hairyfeet concluded. “The sad part? Merely writing that probably has put me on a list, if I wasn’t already.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered ECT News Editor by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

1 Comment

  • This is not related to technology, but just think about this:

    Let us assume there is a party that becomes popular in a State like Georgia. They have a charismatic leader who already has spoken on some TV station and their popularity is increasing sharply. One thing they say is they want to check every contract the governments made with business people in the last 20 years and send the guilty people to jail. Question: would the democrats or republicans who are in power at the time check the digital communication of the most important people in that party? If they do, and can get some unrelated but still dirty information about those people, would they leak the information to newspapers? Would this have a huge effect on the popularity of this new party?

    Even if you say no to many of these questions, they have the means to stop the new player very easily. This in its form is not democracy, this is a dictatorship with two parties.

    BTW it is useful to think about the numbers.

    This is not about you or me. This is about the political system, and we never hear about this aspect. (BTW the American government practically hires companies from _another country_ to hook the system, right? What if the company from the other country filters what data they return? Then that company and that country might know more about Americans than the government itself.)

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

More by Katherine Noyes
More in Community

LinuxInsider Channels