The blogs owner Pamela Jones said in a rather impassioned statement today "But I really know, after all my research and some serious thinking things through, that I can't stay online personally without losing my humanness, now that I know that ensuring privacy online is impossible."
I've always had a strong sense of our utter lack of privacy online, at least in the parochial sense most of us seem to think of. But I've been online far longer than the average person, having gotten my first dialup "shell" account 25 years ago.
Everything you say or do online can, in theory, be captured stored and analyzed till the cows come home. Given the nature of modern IP networks this is even more pervasive than we realize too. Much in the way of voice traffic from "traditional communications" such as cellphones and landlines ends up being sent as VOIP information over existing internet infrastructure by backbone service providers. So your voice call on Verizon or AT&T can at some point end up as internet traffic, at least some of the time based on the needs of carrier networks and their peering arrangements.
It is the theoretical nature of this reality though that has always given me a reasonable level of comfort. It has always been quite clear that the sheer volume of data traveling over IP networks makes actual surveillance quite difficult.
However, given enough technical resources, such individualized surveillance is indeed possible and has been for some time. Edward Snowden's revelations of the length and scope of these capabilities, while an employee for NSA contractor Booz-Allen-Hamilton, makes it clear that this is so.
The capacity and sophistication of these resources is ALWAYS going up as the cost of them goes down. This truth is a mere function of how technology works. So it is safe to assume that we are nearing (or perhaps have already reached) a point where anyone can be easily and perhaps more disturbingly AUTOMATICALLY profiled and targeted for surveillance.
Thinking about this gives me more than a little pause personally. Looking back over the course of my online existence I can think of a myriad of things that would, at least in theory, have me on some government analysts radar. These are just a handful of them...
- I have in the past, and occasionally continue to, communicate with individuals outside the U.S.
- I have blogged and been formally published writing about privacy and surveillance.
- I have privately consulted on and directly rendered forensics analysis of computers and networks.
- I have written scathing op/ed's on the state of copyright and IP law.
- I have interviewed and championed the cause of one person, who in the past was involved in the largest copyright infringement case in history up to that point.
- I have used encryption, proxies, IP blocklists, and all sorts of other methods to communicate online.
According to the surveillance guidelines and justifications outlined in the now public PRISM program, I have ticked several of the boxes necessary for *ALL* of my internet traffic to be scrutinized automatically by the NSA, without even the need of a FISA order. Whether this is actually occuring or not, I cannot say for certain.
But I have little evidence to the contrary telling me that I should doubt this is happening.
What does this mean? What does this mean for me personally?
I am not by nature a person given to paranoia. I know at least one person who has taken these realities to heart to such an extreme, that they are now attempting to live entirely "off the grid", outside of all systems including simple and pedantic ones we take for granted daily. As a result this persons life has now utterly imploded.
Me? I still have bills to pay and people that rely on me, so I'm not interested in taking any extreme precautions. Moreso, I'm not interested in taking any precautions at all.
Pamela Jones in her impassioned exit post on Groklaw implied that she felt her very humanity was as stake. Indeed we have countless lessons throughout history that a surveillance state does have a chilling effect on ones humanity. But, in a connected society such as ours, the double edged sword that is the internet is really too important an aspect of our human connectedness now to shy away from.
It's a pandora's box to be sure, but one we must dive into and accept the realities of lest it become the master of us all.