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“Spies Gonna Spy” – This is not OK

Today, the Intercept released another batch documents obtained by Edward Snowden shedding more light on just how far the government goes in its attempt to gain access to virtually every scrap of electronic communication in the world.

The documents outline a long-time CIA program to crack the encryption of Apple products, including iPhones and iPads. According to the intercept, the CIA hopes to exploit code built into Apple hardware in order to create backdoor access allowing agency spies to snoop undetected.

By targeting essential security keys used to encrypt data stored on Apple’s devices, the researchers have sought to thwart the company’s attempts to provide mobile security to hundreds of millions of Apple customers across the globe. Studying both “physical” and “non-invasive” techniques, U.S. government-sponsored research has been aimed at discovering ways to decrypt and ultimately penetrate Apple’s encrypted firmware. This could enable spies to plant malicious code on Apple devices and seek out potential vulnerabilities in other parts of the iPhone and iPad currently masked by encryption.

The NSA and other federal agencies also contribute to the work, and undoubtedly reap the benefits.

The details of the program should alarm and raise the ire of all Americans. But they won’t.  It seems we’ve reached our limit for outrage.  I sense an almost numb resignation among those actually paying attention to the breadth and scope of the surveillance state. It seems amazing that Sen. Frank Church warned that the U.S. spy apparatus could lead to “total tyranny” way back in 1975, yet here we are today.

And sadly, many Americans simply don’t pay attention. They see the headlines, but they remain safe and secure in the illusion that the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and other cogs in the surveillance state machine don’t care about them – that they just want to catch “terrorists.”

“If U.S. products are OK to target, that’s news to me,” Matthew Green, a cryptography expert at Johns Hopkins University’s Information Security Institute told the Intercept. “Tearing apart the products of U.S. manufacturers and potentially putting backdoors in software distributed by unknowing developers all seems to be going a bit beyond ‘targeting bad guys.’ It may be a means to an end, but it’s a hell of a means.”

A hell of a means indeed.

The scope of these programs makes it clear that it isn’t just about catching foreign terrorists. The U.S. government wants the capability to spy on everybody. That should send chills up and down your spine. We have an institutionalized surveillance state that would like nothing more than to create a real life version of Orwell’s 1984.

Steven Bellovin served as chief technologist for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and currently teaches at Columbia University.  He told the Intercept he wasn’t at all shocked. This is exactly what we should expect from the surveillance state.

“Spies gonna spy. I’m never surprised by what intelligence agencies do to get information. They’re going to go where the info is, and as it moves, they’ll adjust their tactics. Their attitude is basically amoral: whatever works is OK.”

Here’s my question to you.

Is it really OK?

Are you OK with this? Are you OK knowing the CIA wants to make it possible to hack into your phone? Are you OK with the NSA having access to your emails, texts and phone calls?

And do you really trust the government to only target “bad guys” with all of these capabilities?

I say, “Hell no!”

And I plan to keep doing everything I can to stop them.

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