In relation to last night's post about the efforts of the US and British intelligence agencies widespread and well-funded efforts to decrypt all encrypted communications, it turns out that reporting this revelation involved a courageous act of journalism. While it is understandable that spy agencies wouldn't want the public to know that they actively are working to make private communications difficult or near too impossible, these agencies asked (or demanded) that their secrets remain hidden.
Intelligence officials asked the Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica not to publish this article, saying that it might prompt foreign targets to switch to new forms of encryption or communications that would be harder to collect or read.
The three organisations removed some specific facts but decided to publish the story because of the value of a public debate about government actions that weaken the most powerful tools for protecting the privacy of internet users in the US and worldwide.
Let's be honest here. This new revelation may well cause "bad guys" to change the way they communicate. Many of them may have been shocked to read the level to which these agencies have already compromised encrypted communications. To make the case that the "bad guys" already assumed that this was going on is, to my mind, a bit disingenuous.
But I firmly side with these three publications because this is information the general public needs to know. Why? Because it appears that these spy agencies target the innocent far more frequently than they target the terrorists. These programs need to be discussed and debated. You can't do that if you don't know about them in the first place.
On its most fundamental level, as Bruce Schneier writes,
Government and industry have betrayed the internet, and us.
By subverting the internet at every level to make it a vast, multi-layered and robust surveillance platform, the NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract. The companies that build and manage our internet infrastructure, the companies that create and sell us our hardware and software, or the companies that host our data: we can no longer trust them to be ethical internet stewards.
This is not the internet the world needs, or the internet its creators envisioned.
The internet could have played a role in democratizing the world. It allows for the free flow of information and the ability of citizens the world over to communicate with each other. But a free flow of information is something the world elites fear more than anything else. They may say their number one fear is terrorism, but what causes them to shake in their boots the most is the fear that the general public will figure out what they are really up to! If we figure it out...who knows what might happen!