Glenn wrapped up SpyWeek on TheBlaze last night with a chilling look at where the surveillance state is heading next. What sort of world are we creating for our children and grandchildren? One vastly different from ours where all the rules of the game are changed.
Watch a portion of the conversation below:
Glenn: All right, I want to talk to a couple of other people and bring them in. Bruce Schneier is the author of Data and Goliath. Also, Whitfield Diffie, he is an American cryptographer and author of Privacy on the Line. Welcome, gentlemen.
Bruce: Thank you.
Glenn: Okay, so we’re just kind of having an interesting conversation off the air about this is something that everybody should be concerned about, and you were saying that it kind of breaks down to two different groups, people who fear corporations, the people who fear the state, but really both sides should care.
Bruce: I call it the security industrial complex. You know, it isn’t that the NSA woke up one morning and said we’re going to spy on everybody. They woke up in the morning and said, “Wow, all these corporations are spying on everybody. We’re going to get ourselves a copy,” and whether it’s Google or Facebook or your cell phone companies, this data is being collected for persuasion, right, for advertising, and a lot of government surveillance programs piggyback on that.
We just learned today in an article in The Intercept that the NSA broke into the largest SIM card manufacturer—that’s the little card in your cell phone that makes it your cell phone—a Netherlands company and stole all of the SIM numbers or basically all of the keys for everything. Now, we knew they did that piecemeal, but everything? That’s kind of impressive, but they couldn’t do that.
Glenn: What does it mean?
Bruce: You know, we’re still figuring out what it means, but basically each one of your phones has a card in it with keys, and that provides security. What the NSA did, NSA, GCHQ, we’re not sure which, broke into the manufacturer and stole all the secret numbers, and we believe it means they can eavesdrop on any phone. Exactly the details we’re still figuring out, but this is extraordinary, but it was impossible if these phones didn’t have that information in them.
Glenn: You’re a cryptologist. Any way around any of this?
Whitfield: You can look at this from two sides. I think we’re entering a golden age of intelligence. I told that to my Mike Hayden years ago when he was head of NSA, and now I think he knew it already maybe as well as I did.
Glenn: When did you tell him that?
Whitfield: It would be about 2004.
Glenn I talked to the Department of Homeland Security. I can’t remember who was the first guy, Ashcroft? I talked to him right after Department of Homeland Security, and I had my cell phone down on the desk, and he asked for it to be removed. We were on the air, and he asked for it to be removed. When we were off the air, he said to me nobody I know has a cell phone or sends an email. You shouldn’t. That was crazy. They knew.
Bruce: But that’s not a way to live.
Whitfield: You’re not going to turn a profit that way.
Bruce: Right, you have to send email. You need a cell phone. You have to be on Facebook. These are parts of our lives, and turning them off saying we choose not to engage, you’re going to be a freak and a social pariah.
Glenn: But how do you get away from it? They would know, there’s a record now forever for all time that the three of us were together, so you do something, now I’m connected to you for all time.
Whitfield: You might keep it quiet, having a popular show.
Glenn: Yeah, I know, but I mean, everything in your life is connected, everything now.
Whitfield: Well, let me ask you a fundamental question, do you think human autonomy can possibly stand against improving communications?
Whitfield: I mean, look at everything from a truck driver who used to have 30 years ago his boss said get this load from San Diego to Chicago. You’ve got four days. Truck driver is pretty much his own boss over that period of time to today, the truck is tracked at every instant. It’s not LoJack for trucks. It’s Teletrac. To the top level, you have a commander out in the field, and the notion of the commander and chief power now means that the president can call him up on a secure phone and say do this. You know, time of the Constitution, president’s power was to appoint generals, tell them what he wanted done. When they got back, he could court martial. So, I think everything, your autonomy in general without conscious societal decisions to defend it, will be subsumed in the fact that it’s not so much the NSA can watch you, that your boss can watch you, that your friends can watch you, that your spouse can watch you.
Glenn: Is there going to be or is there even now anything such as privacy?
Bruce: Certainly, there is. Privacy isn’t gone. There’s lots of ways it’s being invaded because there are so many digital intermediaries in our lives. Everything we do largely requires computers. Computers produce this data. You know, we’ve seen as technology improves this data is now cheaper to save, cheaper to store. You talked about the Utah data center. That’s where the NSA store it. Google has their own data storage. Everybody is storing this data, but that’s not inevitable. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can take pains to limit the data we produce, and we can hopefully control both government and corporate collection use surveillance.
Glenn: Who’s going to do that?
Bruce: This is the problem.
Glenn: I mean, I had a guy, former NSA, was one of the guys that they, you know, broke down his front door, came in, and he was in the shower and held a gun to his head because he was against the data collection. He said, “Glenn, you’ll never stop it, because (a) everybody in Washington is in on it, and (b) there’s data on everybody.” Who’s going to stop it?
Bruce: I tend to be short-term pessimistic and long-term optimistic. I think in the near term you’re right that the government is punch drunk on this data. Corporations are punch drunk on this data. There’s so much out there. There’s this belief in big data that it’s valuable, and we should save it. I mean, that’s why it’s being saved. When you talk to people inside the government and counterterrorism, they know these broad surveillance programs don’t work. For them it’s an insurance policy. It’s a very expensive insurance policy. Long-term, though, I think we figure this out. I mean, this is not something that’s inevitable. It might take us a generation, but I actually believe that we will get to a place where privacy is valued and preserved.
Whitfield: Privacy is a pretty dodgy concept. I mean, I think people often talk about, you know, about the old days—we lived in small towns and so forth, and then people observe, you know, small towns are not actually that friendly to privacy. Your neighbors know all about you. The critical thing is you also know all about your neighbors. You see them every day. You buy and sell from them. You work with them. They are answerable to you. When these remote big data companies are tracking us, they are no way answerable to us. They can take actions that will affect our lives, will affect whether we can get jobs, affect the cost of insurance, and it’s a great deal of trouble for us even to find out it’s going on, let alone to hold them to account for it.
Bruce: I think that’s important. It’s the power imbalance. When you think about transparency versus privacy, it’s all about the powerful versus the powerless. We like transparency in government. It reduces government power, better liberty.
Whitfield: And the government doesn’t like it for the same reason.
Bruce: Right, and the government wants secrecy which increases the power imbalance. We want privacy of individuals which reduces the power imbalance. How we get there, I think we have to agitate for political change? I mean, this is going to be hard. We’re fighting strong lobbies. We’re fighting strong government interests, and we are producing this data. We’re leaving this enormous data shadow.
Glenn: Okay, so let’s talk about the data footprint and reducing the data footprint, what the average person can do. I know you have some tips, so we’ll go through those and then also, what does advocacy mean? What does stand up for your rights really mean on this? How do you do that? When we come back.