In order to defuse the huge embarrassment caused by the recent leaks about the NSA Prism program by Edward Snowden, President Obama assured Americans that the NSA’s massive communications dragnet targets only those in other countries, not U.S. citizens. While that might sooth the concerns of most Americans, it’s of little comfort to the citizens of other countries, many of whom tend to think of the U.S. as an ally sharing similar values on things like, say, communications privacy.
[R]evelations of a huge, secret U.S. Internet spying program have raised awkward questions for allies, forced to explain whether they let Washington spy on their citizens or benefited from snooping that would be illegal at home.
U.S. law puts limits on the government’s authority to snoop at home but virtually no restrictions on American spies eavesdropping on the communications of foreigners, including in allied countries with which Washington shares intelligence. That means Washington could provide friendly governments with virtually unlimited information about their own citizens’ private communication on the Internet.
If that weren’t enough, this story has made enough of an international splash to cause some citizens of those other countries to have second thoughts about allowing their own governments more power to invade their privacy.
Is it possible to actually record and store that much communications data? Apparently the answer is yes.
Former NSA employees Thomas Drake and Bill Binney told SPIEGEL in March that the facility would soon store personal data on people from all over the world and keep it for decades. This includes emails, Skype conversations, Google searches, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, bank transfers — electronic data of every kind.
Binney, a mathematician who was previously an influential analyst at the NSA, calculates that the servers are large enough to store the entirety of humanity’s electronic communications for the next 100 years — and that, of course, gives his former colleagues plenty of opportunity to read along and listen in.
Despite the role of instant communications in the various uprisings throughout the Arab world, most western people aren’t aware of the threat to all governments posed by today’s access to mass communications. Cell phones and the internet provide the means for an unhappy populace to organize an almost instant insurrection. A revolution that would take weeks and months to build in the past can accelerate in hours given the right trigger event. It’s not a matter of “if”. It’s a matter of “when”.