Are We Safe Enough?

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Future – Every time you look at it, it changes. Because you looked at it, and that changes everything else.

People of the Past looked at the Future and gave a magnificent gift to all of us – INTERNET, which has now become ubiquitous, has surely changed everything in the Present. No one can deny the fact that it has brought a sea change in the lifestyle of common men or the men of common lifestyle. Either ways, this mammoth change has definitely altered the destiny of mankind.

I humbly believe that none of you readers will ever attempt to question its potential. Even small kids will agree with this, for using it, is as easy as the Sunday morning. Now, trying to explain the importance of Internet to professionals like you would be an insult on your part of technical credibility. I surely don’t want to attempt it. So, considering my belief that you are not oblivious to the net-savvy world, let us have a paradigm shift now.

The people who gave Internet to the world or the ones who used it extensively around the globe never once would have thought that a day will come when their ‘Privacy’ would be at the brink of its destruction! Every little data of yours which is a part of Internet (that includes specially the e-mails that you send and receive) is unsafe. You could be having the most powerful password or you could even be using a corporate e-mail id, but it doesn’t make any difference when it comes to protecting your privacy rights. Mind you, I’m not talking about unethical hackers, but the people who are in a higher position – The Uncle Sam or as known to every one around the world - The Government of U.S!!!

Surprised? Perplexed?? Shocked???

Hold your breath dear readers, for this is just the beginning...

Let me start by narrating an incident. About a decade ago, when a class was going on in Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, unannounced, the U.S. Secret Service showed up and detained one of the students claiming he was a threat to National Security. As it turned out, the kid had sent a private e-mail to a friend saying how he hated the then President Bill Clinton and how he thought the President should be shot. The Secret Service went to the campus to make sure the kid wasn’t serious. After some interrogation, they got convinced that the kid was harmless and only then he was let free. This Secret Service is National Security Agency (NSA).

Here the question is not upon the integrity or the negative mind set of the kid but how the Secret Service did come to know what he had written in his private e-mail. The reason I’m sure will knock you down.

NSA was founded on the morning of November 4th, 1952 by President Truman. The NSA’s work was simple – to intercept and decipher information from hostile governments around the globe. Secondly, it was to create the means to enable secure communications among U.S. military and officials.

As the years passed by and the terrorist activities started increasing, especially after the 9/11 incident, NSA took a new turn of monitoring the personal messages which were sent and received via electronic media. People were impervious to these things in the beginning but as more and more of such cases were revealed, people got aware of its seriousness and went on a strike claiming their privacy rights. The NSA tried to convince them that it was being done for their own well being. Maybe they were right. It was being done for the welfare of the country’s’ citizens, but how would you convince a person who sent a romantic message to his wife, someone monitors it and then have the guts to say that it was done for the welfare of the country??

And the stage for Information War was set…

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) provides that personal E-mail cannot be intercepted while it is in transit. However, once the E-mail is digitally "stored" it is fair game and officials can legally gain access. The irony in the law is that E-mail travels by copying itself from server to server; the moment it is "in transit" it is also stored on servers across the country.

The NSA's super-computers scan E-mail and other digital communiqués using the Brute Force technique looking for dangerous word combinations like "kill" and "Clinton" in the same sentence. When they find such words, they immediately send a back track through a trap door to find the area code. The rest of the job is just a piece of cake.

It's hard to prove that unwarranted monitoring takes place, but most privacy specialists agree that monitoring is rampant, a point well-taken when you consider the following: Government Incentive -- Terrorist activity against a country is on the rise (some from domestic sources), and the incentive certainly exists to protect national security in anyway possible. It's Easy - The technology now exists for the government to secretly scan enormous quantities of data much cost effectively. It's Legal - The current laws are written such that they do not hinder the intelligence agencies in any real way from scanning civilian communications for subversive activity.

Historical Precedent - The intelligence community has a long history of protecting national security through domestic intelligence gathering. Ultimately, privacy will not survive the digital revolution. We live in a society experiencing exponential technological growth. Now most of our daily activities are conducted through our home computers—(well at least in some sophisticated cities) - paying taxes, voting, shopping, all of our entertainment, movie-downloads have already replaced videos, music downloads have replaced CD's... all of this personal information is zipping around between satellites and through cables...it would be naive to believe that we will develop some foolproof method of keeping all this information secure.

Now, some of you may ask me, “All these things are happening outside India especially the U.S., so why should we bother?”

I have two reasons:

One – when we talk about Internet, we consider the global scenario and not just our country. And we can extract more of such example cases from U.S. compared to other countries (for all the obvious reasons of course!).

Second – the Govt. of India hasn’t brought the rule to monitor all the mails but, when it comes to e-mail monitoring by U.S. Govt., most of the times it depends on the area codes. Suppose you send a mail (from this city) to a friend who resides in Bangalore, the chances of deciphering it by U.S. Govt. is less. But if you send a mail to a friend who is residing in Boston, the chances are more, maybe because the U.S. Govt. is monitoring e-mails of that area code (Boston). So your mail will be at the receiving end.

The U.S. Govt. took such an uncompromising step after the 9/11 attacks and it has remained a bone of contention till today by keeping the people on tenterhooks.

Even India has experienced some hard to believe terrorist activities recently. Who knows? Even the Govt. of India can take a drastic step of monitoring over all e-mails which could possibly go against our grain.

Being inquisitive over others’ private issues could be a normal propensity among uncultured people but what if it is done by the Government? There is absolutely no other go except biting the bullet silently.

Technology has made global communication more efficient, but the down side is that there is a lot more of each of us floating around out there waiting to be intercepted. And when it is done, the results could be unfathomable.

‘PRIVACY’? What does it mean by the bye? Maybe the meaning has just disappeared from the face of the earth.

Are you Internet Aficionados out there still thinking that there is some fool proof strategy to protect your privacy?

Wake up folks! Wake up and smell your coffee...

Bibliography: 1. Digital Fortress by Dan Brown (and also one of his interviews)

2. en.wikipedia.org

3. news.zdnet.com

Comments (4)

where do u get all that info :O...but heck it was pretty informative...gyaan jhaado :P

This is just the beginning.... :D

Tat made me wonder:o

What ever you write...you do a lot of ground work!
I really appreciate you for that.

The article was interesting but I wonder if terrorists and stuff can be so easily caught? Even they are intelligent enough...they always find a a way to their goals.
But yeah felt hard to digest the fact that Privecy is almost extinct :~(

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