Jamshed Avari | 23 August 2010
For exactly how long has our government being spying on our phone calls and text messages? They’re obviously upset that they can’t get into BlackBerry phones, which means they’ve been successful on regular ones, although no one’s ever said anything about this. If the operators are aware of this and are facilitating it, shouldn’t they be obliged to notify customers, or at least include this information as a disclaimer in their sales materials at the time of purchase?
What exactly is included in this spying? Is it just calls and messages, or is it email, calendars and notes as well? Are landlines and office PCs regularly monitored? Does all of this happen in realtime, or are records scanned later? It seems unfeasible to set up infrastructure fast enough to scan through the billions of text messages and interpret keywords in the millions of minutes of voice communication that happen every day. Are phone numbers monitored only if they belong to suspected national security threats? How are these then identified, and what happens if someone innocent winds up on the list by accident? Even if individual phone numbers can be identified as being used by individuals with malicious intent, can individual email accounts be also?
In that case, every free webmail account provider would then have to start maintaining records and therefore demanding photo ID and personal verification before allowing accounts to be created—and the millions of addresses already in use would have to be suspended unless their owners came forward to register themselves. Would it even be possible to identify every email service provider on the planet and force them to comply? What about other services—Twitter, Facebook, Skype, YouTube… these are the well-known names but surely there are thousands of other options out there that can be used for clandestine communications. Will commonly available encryption tools such as PGP and TrueCrypt be made illegal, and will this stop anyone from using them? How sophisticated is the government’s ability to detect steganography?
What about the timing of all of it. Why has the government chosen now to publicize the fact that it is unable to spy on BlackBerry phones, thereby pretty much inviting people who don’t want to be spied upon to use them? This issue has come up before, so what went wrong with the status quo that was achieved last time? Is it really concerned that businesses with their own BlackBerry servers will somehow wind up supporting terrorist activities, or will they come up with different standards for corporate and consumer devices to be monitored by? On the other hand, if RIM does have deals in place with other countries as is being alleged, will they or the respective countries ever disclose the fact that they have such a huge tactical advantage and allow others to have the same?
How far is all of this going to go?