The Latest from Snowden

Edward Snowden recently agreed to an interview with Peter Taylor of the BBC. Top VPN provider StrongVPN analyzed the televised October interview and shared with us the most significant points that Snowden makes about the government mass surveillance tactics that continue to be employed to spy on our every word despite the huge outcry over the NSA documents leaked to us since 2013. Snowden states confidently not that our privacy in danger but that we no longer have any.

Information is Power

A few days ago we posted an article about the Snooper’s Charter, Britain’s new mass surveillance bill. It contains many of the same provisions that the US wanted earlier this year. It is not surprising that the UK would want to hold on to their spy powers since their team up with the US has produced the most dominant surveillance setup in the world. The NSA has an annual budget of 10 billion dollars that they use for spy equipment, and the British GCHQ can take advantage of that because of the data sharing agreements that they have with the NSA. With over 30,000 analysts and agents working daily on surveillance, that’s a lot of data.

The NSA relies heavily on bulk data collection, and also had access to the GCHQ’s Tempora program. The two governments have worked together to scrape up massive amounts of data for over a decade. And all of this data gathering has gone on without asking the public for their permission; indeed, without informing them of the process. The public was not asked its opinion because these governments knew that we would not be amenable to allowing them to spy on our every conversation and webpage visit. It was in fact done complexly in secret because there are several laws that protect us from that kind if intrusion into our private lives. The NSA also tried and failed to keep it a secret that bulk data gathering does nothing to prevent terror attacks. They have used this lie repeatedly to gain support or their invasive programs.

With his privileged access (Priv Ac) permissions level at the NSA, Snowden was able to access even the data gathered from British nationals. In this setup, he says, the GCHQ is like a branch of the NSA, and part of the US agency’s budget even gets passed on to them for system improvements and additions. Their relationship goes beyond friendly information sharing and into the realm of building a surveillance world that they control. The NSA also gives the GCHQ technology and tells them what to do, and they let the NSA read all the information that gets routed through all the Internet cables running under the Atlantic Ocean and around British beaches. These agencies also have access to networks that they have hacked using CNE, opening up to them all the data running through the service providers, like when they hacked Cisco routers to monitor millions of people on Pakistan networks. And they can do this anywhere.

Spy agencies would love to have control over every consumer device. There has been a rumor going around that it would not be practical for an agency like the NSA to endeavor to crack these devices or the encryption that protects them. This is a lie probably told to distract us from the very real desire of the NSA to have power over our mobile data. People are using smartphones for their online activities more and more. All the access that these agencies have to physical cables may soon be useless. Saying that the NSA has no need to tap mobile data is like saying that they no longer have any desire to spy on people. In reality, most of the data that the NSA and the GCHQ has been collecting recently comes from smartphones that they have successfully hacked into. Believe us when we say that the NSA is not backing down on this point, nor will they let up. The GCHQ developed the Smurf Suite for smartphones so that they could control device power up and microphones, and track users’ precise locations, and especially to do these all without being detected even by a phone technician. An underfunded spy agency would not invest in smartphones if it was not the next logical step.

The Encryption Battle

The current US administration may have decided to give up pursuing anti-encryption legislation at this time because of all the heat that the subject puts on them. But Snowden assures us that beating encryption is still at the top of their to-do list. Encryption blocks intelligence agencies from accessing information that was previously wide open to them. It hurts their pride and makes their job harder. Even the NSA and the GCHQ are not able to spy on encrypted connections or read encrypted data. They want access, and they are just biding their time. They won’t insist on putting people in danger by forcefully having backdoors created for them, but when the dust of this argument settles we can be sure that they will be right back on this track to breaking the encryption that protects us from criminals.

Snowden says that the only reason that agencies like the NSA would want backdoors to encryption technologies is so that they could spy on everything without limit or oversight. And of course the NSA and all its partners are tapping every line of communication that isn’t protected by encryption technologies. They are collecting in bulk most especially the metadata of these communications – millions of phone calls and text messages and chats – to maintain a comprehensive log of where messages are sent from and to, and when. The NSA may not routinely read the actual contents of these private messages, but this is more because it would take up a lot of time. If they wanted to read, say, an email in full, they most certainly could.

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