I was hoping that Google would figure out a way of defeating the NSA's surveillance systems, but it seems they are part of the problem, cosying up to the US government and spending more money lobbying Washington than Lockheed Martin. So much for "don't be evil".
Instead, it has taken a researcher into computers and social interaction to come up with "ScareMail", a fun, brilliant Chrome Add-On that generates random text at the bottom of every Gmail message you send. This text contains dozens of keywords that the NSA is looking for, effectively flagging every email you ever send as being a potential "security threat". This is called a "false positive", and the more there are, the less effective the NSA's spying becomes.
Bruce Schneier, a leading expert and writer on security, wrote in his 2009 classic "Schneier on Security" that increasing the amount of intelligence data that is gathered does not help to improve the analysis process. In fact, it makes things worse. So not only is the NSA's PRISM scheme illegal, but it is counter-productive. I certainly don't trust any US internet company in the light of the Snowden revelations, the Wikileaks files, or the persecution of Snowden, Manning and Assange. Schneier writes:
It is also unclear whether Echelon-style eavesdropping would prevent terrorist attacks. In the months before 9/11, Echelon noticed considerable “chatter”: bits of conversation suggesting some sort of imminent attack. But because much of the planning for 9/11 occurred face-to-face, analysts were unable to learn details.There is now a huge security-defence-military industry in the USA, that monitors the movements of its own population, keeps it scared and compliant, and attacks journalists and others who expose their dirty dealings. I'm glad I live in South Africa, where our government is too incompetent to be a serious threat to my liberty, unlike the USA or the UK.
The fundamental issue here is security, but it’s not the security most people think of. James Madison famously said: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Terrorism is a serious risk to our nation, but an even greater threat is the centralization of American political power in the hands of any single branch of the government.
Over 200 years ago, the framers of the U.S. Constitution established an ingenious security device against tyrannical government: they divided government power among three different bodies. A carefully thought-out system of checks and balances in the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch, ensured that no single branch became too powerful.
After watching tyrannies rise and fall throughout Europe, this seemed like a prudent way to form a government. Courts monitor the actions of police. Congress passes laws that even the president must follow. Since 9/11, the United States has seen an enormous power grab by the executive branch. It’s time we brought back the security system that’s protected us from government for over 200 years.
Here is an example of the kind of text that ScareMail generates:
Following Text Generated by ScareMail
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She secured his point case raw with woman. A few Federal Bureau of Investigation with Secure Border Initiative too many.
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Update Monday: Wouldn't it be great if spammers used this algorithm? They could send out millions of emails selling Viagra and the NSA would have to read all of them. Now that would be justice!