Big Brother is an American

U-News Staff

Photo Credit: Google

Orwellian-style data collection and surveillance programs in the United States raise fears that the internet, first thought of as a force for freedom and democracy, may be turning into a tool of oppression and war.

Last Thursday, cyber-security policy expert David Fidler visited the UMKC School of Law to discuss the direction of America’s Internet policy after Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency computer specialist,  divulged the existence of classified government surveillance programs.

Fidler, who is from the Indiana University Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research and a University of Kansas graduate, described Snowden as “one gigantic bull in the china shop”  to emphasize the impact of the whistleblower on the intelligence community’s top-secret activities.

Central to Snowden’s disclosures was the existence of the so-called “metadata program,” a massive data collection operation between the major  cellular telephone companies and the government. The telecommunication companies send information about telephone calls to the NSA who then stores the information in a massive database, which is used to search for terrorists.

In addition to the metadata program, PRISM is a mass electronic surveillance program that collects data directly from private servers and stores communication information for analysis.  Partners with the PRISM program include Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Paltalk. However, this program was not limited to the United States. Leaked information also showed that the reach of PRISM was global, collecting information in almost every country in the world including espionage against United States. allies such as Germany and France.

According to Fidler, these programs have been ongoing for years, in some cases since before 9/11. He described the evolution of Cybersecurity as moving from a process of classification, where threats are categorized and then appropriate laws are applied, to a capabilities focused approach, where cyberspace is actively used to further national, domestic and foreign policy interests.  Snowden’s leaks only confirm that this approach is the future of the government’s presence in today’s computing-reliant world.

The Pentagon also intends to weaponize the Internet, Fidler said.  Presidential Directive 20, issued October 2012 by President Barack Obama , authorized the use of cyber weapons and orders the creation of a hit list of foreign targets.  A cyberattack is a digital attack against an enemy’s computer systems and is intended to cause real-world damage like crippling an enemy’s economy or shutting down vital infrastructures such as power and communication.

The UnitedStates has already taken part in one such attack in the case of the Stuxnet virus, which was deployed against Iran in an effort to derail their nuclear enrichment program.  Although cyberattacks don’t rely on physical bombs and bullets, they could lead to conventional wars involving military action and possible deaths.

According to Fidler, Snowden’s disclosures have brought a frightening new picture of the Internet’s future into view,  in which everything one says and does is recorded by government agencies.  The new spying initiatives are founded on questionable legal basis, Fidler noted. .

“The vague wording of the law gives broad powers to government agencies and is often ambiguous in defining who constitutes a threat and which communications are deemed of interest to authorities,” he said.

Fidler stated international students would have the most to worry about in regard to universities being disproportionately targeted for monitoring since in NSA programs, namely PRISM, are specifically interested in international correspondence.

Fidler concluded with urging students to “have a hard think on your views of privacy.”