This may hint at my advancing years, but I distinctly recall being in awe, at least a couple of decades ago, at the ambitious scope of an international effort of cross-espionage called ECHELON that had already been in operation for some 30 years. It was an undertaking of massive proportions where 5 countries (the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) agreed to monitor Eastern Bloc communications while protecting their respective citizens against surreptitious domestic surveillance. So – get this – each member country demonstrated respect for the privacy of its own people by allowing the others to spy on them, and they each had to reciprocate in kind before ostensibly pooling the data. This heart warming standard of care is perhaps owed to the fact that the pesky notion of privacy had been freshly introduced in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and preceded ECHELON by about a decade.\
Over the last half-century the global surveillance system has had numerous upgrades to keep up with the advent of new technologies, from satellite communications to the Internet, all the while painstakingly analyzing monumental amounts of intercepted data in complete secrecy. Given the NSA’s stated original purpose for ECHELON being the monitoring of Soviet military activity during the Cold War and the fact that it’s still in operation today I can only guess that whatever its present goals are, they include the words ‘terrorism’, ‘national security’ and perhaps ‘foreign and domestic’. And when I say it’s still in operation today, I mean sort of. Because guess what? Thanks to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 the US no longer has to have its friends do its dirty work. It can now spy on its own citizens with impunity thankyouverymuch.
To wit, an unsurprising recent Wikileaks report recently confirmed that the NSA is already snooping on the telephone and Internet activity of people from as many as 35 countries – including ours – and offers downloadable evidence to make its case. The US government called this leak ‘reprehensible’ and is taking steps to declassify some of its less secret activity to “clear up misunderstandings and numerous inaccuracies” in the face of public outcry. The official added: “The unauthorized disclosure of a top secret U.S. court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation”. So there. Be very afraid.
Ah yes, one more thing before the pièce de résistance. Despite the massive data collection efforts and scouring of the Internet in search of your personal activity (under an NSA/FBI program called PRISM, among others), the government stated that only a small fraction of the surreptitiously collected data ever gets examined. Alrighty then!
With that in mind, I draw your attention to an NSA construction project that has been under construction for the better part of the past decade. Affectionately called the “spy center”, a massive compound will primarily be home to billions of terabytes of scalable storage and astronomical amounts of supercomputing power. Built by the combined sweat of some 10,000 workers, the 1 million square foot Utah Data Center is a facility of Disneyesque proportions. It cost $2 billion to build, includes an antiterrorism security system, has its own power station and 60,000 tons of cooling equipment. When it goes online this year, its function will be to collect, analyze and monitor all data communications. Bam! Just like that.
That includes your personal emails, and your cloud storage, and your online backups, and your purchases, and your social media profile and … probably a lot of other stuff you don’t even want to contemplate. I could go on, but I’m a little busy looking for ways to encrUIH&^$^&UBKNH&^*$^BN&*(*&^N*((J()(^INN&…