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There are no rainbows in PRISM

Column The worst is yet to come
Fri Jun 21 2013, 13:26

RUMOURED FOR YEARS, it appears that there are secret links between telecommunications and internet service providers and the American security agencies.

There has been talk of investments and deals and companies being fronts for someone else, and people have whispered about who, how and why for as long as I can remember.

Now Edward Snowden has opened our eyes to the PRISM surveillance system. The PRISM scandal has pulled a lot of firms into its vapour trail since it erupted earlier this month. Since then we have seen comments and scurrying and distancing, disgust and shock, and even acceptance.

Firms have come forward and asked for government permission to tell their users and the public about their involvement and we have already had peeks at how many requests there have been that previously firms were not allowed to talk about.

Microsoft has come out with new transparency figures, and so have Yahoo, Google and Facebook. These don't tell the full story though, and they make for difficult comparisons because they don't cover the same time periods and don't release the same information. They are also rounded up to the nearest 1,000, which is hardly exact.

It seems like no time ago at all, that the same firms were going, "Er, what's a PRISM?", but lately they have been requesting the green light to be more forthcoming about the surveillance.

So far we can add up tens of thousands of requests made to the biggest internet firms, but there will be more to come. These are just the disclosures that negotiations have allowed us to find out about. What information still remains locked away? And why?

Nothing about PRISM smells right. I can't imagine for a moment that these companies have been part of the PRISM network without their knowledge. You can't even use a fake name on some of them without being sniffed out, so how one of those social networking server farms could miss a server access point or activity stream to the US National Security Agency (NSA) is beyond me.

Read up on PRISM and you will start to feel dirty. It's a betrayal of internet users' trust and a smack in the face for anyone that ever considered a web firm to be a trusted service provider.

I've always assumed the worst, but I never imagined the Orwellian PRISM system, and wish I had never heard of it.

We aren't spared it in the UK of course, and the onerous Snoopers' Charter is at least more open about its curtain twitching attentions. If we do end up bound by its rules, it will not be because we weren't aware of it and didn't protest. It'll just be because the government decided that it had no alternative but to monitor all our communications and everything we do online.

As bad as it sounds, I think that PRISM might just be the tip of the iceberg. We've seen repeated draconian sweeps of information about people, and extreme penalties, and no signs of any abatement.

Unfortunately, it is our problem. It's a situation that we walked, clicked and mousedragged ourselves into.

Over time we have created digital dox on ourselves. Collections of our wants, our lives and our interests are stored online and shared with people we might never meet and possibly never want to.

Give me an email address and I can usually find out something about a person, even a photo. That was the preserve of the security services not much more than a year ago. These days, thanks to constant social media communications, we even know when many people are going on holiday.

A steady drip feed of information about us has been established, and you can be sure you will never get your privacy back. I'm sure that soon the most shocking thing we'll hear about PRISM will be how sophisticated a picture of human beings it has been able to build up, and how easy we made the job. µ


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