I got a chuckle out of the outrage over the revelation that various three-letter agencies are vacuuming up all of the electronic data they can get their hands on, which is essentially all of it. It isn’t news. That particular whistle was blown years ago. No one outside of a handful of civil libertarians cared. Now, a handful of civil libertarians and about a half dozen other people care. But it’s officially news now.
I have lots to say about how that kind of thing, that dragnet style of information collection which can, does, and will continue to result in the egregious loss of freedom. The mentally deficient will be entrapped, and innocents of all stripes will be imprisoned — circumstantial evidence is a real bitch. That’s why we have the Innocence Project and various lesser known variants of it. Innocents do go to prison. All the time.
I have lots to say about it, but I won’t say it now. Instead, what I’d like to say is just this: Encrypt everything you send or receive across the internet, always. Everything. Always.
Why? If you’ve nothing to hide, don’t break the law, don’t even talk about breaking the law, why would you do that? Because it makes it harder for the spooks. If everyone, or at least a critical mass of us did this, it would slow them down enough that they’d have to be somewhat more selective about which data they trawl. It takes a lot more processing power to decrypt an email message than to simply analyze it, and it takes a helluva lot more processing power to decrypt it if you don’t have the encryption keys. Sure, they can do it — there are specialized massively parallel computers that are designed just for this purpose, and the three-letters have them. Heck, private sector bad guys have them, too, as the economies of scale bring down the cost of that cool hardware. BUT: Life is easier for the lot of them as long as we only encrypt those things that we consider sensitive. The presence of encryption itself tells the spies which stuff is interesting. If we encrypt everything, the presence of encryption will mean far less than it does now. They’ll have to decrypt random chit-chat and my favorite chicken recipes, too.
The flood of data is already unmanageable for them, but they can pick out which bits are most interesting by spotting patterns. That’s what data mining is all about, after all. Occasionally encrypting a message just proves that the message contains sensitive information. Encrypting everything indicates nothing except that you’re (a) security conscious, and (b) possibly, though not certainly, peacefully protesting the egregious practices of the surveillance state.