Staring into the Prism

There this line from a song by the Goodie Mob; it says, “Were the walls built to keep crime out or keep our ass in”. That line has seemed to be highly appropriate in the days (really hours) since disclosure of a set of PowerPoint slides detailed a program codenamed PRISM.

The whole story, of a program that has essentially built a back door into the Internet with the help of most of the big US tech companies including Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Yahoo. The news came in a flood with all the suspected companies denying any involvement with PRISM or that the US government had any backdoor direct access to user data. As analysts, bloggers, reporters, and conspiracy theorist go over every detail of the slides, the story continues to unfold.

Today the Guardian, the paper at the heart of the story, disclosed the whistleblower to be Edward Snowden. Snowden, 29, is a contractor for Booz-Allen who previously worked at the Central Intelligence Agency and for a short time for the National Security Agency.

For many the story of PRISM is about the betrayal of  Google, Microsoft, Apple, and other tech companies. I think for people who follow technology this has been the only real story. For others its about the weird lines of investigative journalism and whistle blowing.

It has been really interesting to see this story get dissected online. Some have taken the story at face value and already calling for heads. Others, especially in the national security space are being a little bit skeptical. The only thing certain about this story is that it is in flux .

In many ways PRISM isn’t a new story, its elements have been highlighted before in 2002 with revelations of the NSA wiretapping AT&T. Or in the same time period talking about the proposal for Total Information Awareness. This is not to including the birth of actual domestic programs like the FBI’s Carnivore program.

The problem or issue people are having with the PRISM program is the information is coming from the one place where they put their most intimate information, the Web. Think about how much people rely on Google alone for e-mail and communication.  Someone was prophetic when they said the Internet was the perfect tool for analyst; we provide almost a full personality sketch in every like or Tweet. And because of the nature of the web we have no issue sharing because its anonymous to most users. But the reality is the assumption of privacy is not the same on the Internet as it is in real life.

And I think that is the real issue with PRISM; its not that the NSA has done what the Guardian’s reported, its that we are finally realizing how much the concept of privacy no longer exists. We build devices and systems that make are lives convenient by giving them enough information to predict our actions and wishes. We have created a whole industry around ourselves and our data as the product. And no one has had a problem with this because it makes our lives easier; but also track able. 

The bad guys use the same phones you do, want the same services you use and that makes that technology a target for intelligence services. We have let our need for extreme security and easy access lead to this point in which people are freaking out.

So for now welcome to the Village.

Be Seeing You

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