247 Investigations - Will Encryption fix all….?
Nine months ago, Edward Snowden decided to go public, admitting to the world that he was behind mass leaks of confidential NSA information. Immediately he became one of the best-known people in the world, and became a sort of geek god. But since then, he’s actually kept a very low profile, in part, no doubt, to avoid the long fingers of the US Justice Department. Apart from his initial appearance and one or two political web conferences, we know Snowden is in Russia but not much else.
Imagine then the joy of the assembled techy geeks at the SXSW festival in Austin when Snowden addressed them via webcam. In conversation with Christopher Sogholan, Snowden covered a wide range of topics related to security and the internet. He’s clearly been busy in Russia, refining his opinions and considering ways to implement them. And it’s clear that he wants his techie geek followers to take back the net, and for everyone else to follow.
What that actually means
First of all, Snowden highlighted just how easy it is for the NSA to conduct mass surveillance, thanks to the shoddy practice of tech companies. From the iPhone’s secret back door to the complex opt-out system required to secure your Facebook, the digital giants really haven’t protected the interests of the users when it comes to security. Mark Zuckerberg may complain to Barack Obama about NSA privacy violations, but the reality is that he still wants Facebook to be able to violate people’s privacy. That’s how he makes his money, through targeted advertising using highly detailed personal information.
What Snowden argues is that although companies can strive to make a profit, things have been thrown off-balance. Due to their lax security systems, the NSA or GCHQ can very easily swoop in and seize unimaginable quantities of information. The solution is simple: encryption. Since Snowden went public, Silicon Valley has already started implementing default 'https' encryption, but net security experts say they should go further. Sites should be completely locked-down so that not even the companies themselves can access user information.
The impact of this would be that governments would be forced to end policies of mass surveillance. At present, they might as well gobble up the information of millions of innocent people because it’s so easy. However, if they had to battle through complex encryptions in order to access individual data, they would have to think more carefully about their targets. Most people believe that intelligence agencies should exist and should have the right to breach privacy regulations in extreme circumstances. Making it more difficult and expensive to breach privacy ensures that the agencies will only target internet users when there is a credible threat.
All internet users have a part to play in this. We’ve already seen that the tech giants like Facebook, Yahoo and Apple have rushed to support Team Snowden. But while they talk a good game, what will really motivate them to change their practices? Like every other company, it’s loss of profit. Web users need to put solid security at the forefront of their online requirements. If people refused to buy iPhones until they were completely surveillance-proof, you can imagine how quickly Apple would refocus on security development.
Snowden also highlighted that companies have taken advantage of the average person’s limited knowledge of technology. Facebook is a good example; it’s an intuitive platform but the process of making it private is incredibly unintuitive. If you’re concerned that your information is being gathered inappropriately, or if you want to ensure that your own data protection standards are up to scratch, 247 Investigations can help through professional digital consultancy.