Apologists are already trying to paint the recent revelations of NSA access to data at services such as Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google as being more innocent than they seem. I believe nothing could be further from the truth.
As disclosed years ago, the NSA already taps data passing through major Internet backbones in a number of locations. Thus, they are already able to see all the traffic passing by, and record as much of it as they want. Indeed, they are building massive billion-dollar data centers in Utah and Maryland just to store all the recorded data for future use.
However, the connections to Facebook, major email providers like Microsoft’s Outlook/Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail, as well as messages and calls made through Skype, are all encrypted. Thus, while the NSA/FBI can record all the conversations, they cannot (easily) read them.
That’s where the back-door access to these service providers comes in. This provides the NSA and FBI with the means to either get the information they want straight from the service provider, or else request the encryption key to unlock the data they already have stored.
Thus, getting past the encryption is the only reason they need this access. Otherwise they’d be recording, storing, and possibly reading or automatically analyzing, data mining, and searching through all your emails, Skype calls, Facebook messages, etc. already.
Why it Matters
As Moxie Marlinspike points out, policing used to be a lot harder; it was impractical to monitor communications, locations and other data so easily. And it is also important for a functioning democratic society for law enforcement to be so imperfect, since so many actions, particularly progressive ones (he points out marijuana use and gay marriage) are technically in violation of some law or other. Indeed, almost everyone almost certainly breaks SOME laws as part of their normal life, many of which they may not even be aware of.
As a result, the surveillance state is becoming truly scary, because being able to track and identify a wide range of potential lawbreaking (either in real time or retroactively) is no longer inhibited by cost or practicality, and barely inhibited by legal restraints (when those laws are even being adhered to, which I expect they are not half the time). We are all criminals, and now all subject to being caught doing something wrong that could be punished, should anyone in a position of power have a desire to do so.
What to Do
It’s time to fight hard against the surveillance state – laws need to change, secrecy needs to be lifted so that such activities are in full public view, and budgets need to be cut drastically so that it remains impractical for the government to spy on all of us all the time.
At the least, we should not be happy that the federal government spends billions of our taxpayer dollars to spy on us, rather than provide better healthcare or other worthy goals. Even worse that I now live in more fear of my own government than I ever have been of terrorists.
Everyone needs to communicate to their elected officials that the direction things are going, indeed the current status quo, are not acceptable, and demand to know what they intend to do to fix things. Vote them out of office if they do not try to make things better.