How to defeat the NSA
The history of warfare, which basically is the history of mankind, can teach you one thing:
if a new threatening weapon arises, it won’t take long, until the enemy intends to use that very same weapon against you.
This understanding was the main motor behind the cold war and is the single reason, why noone on this planet will drop a nuclear bomb on anyone soon. It’s been true for centuries and all kinds of armory.
I don’t propose the threat of using the same weapon prevents the first party from using it at all though. That would be too simple and history has shown otherwise as was examplified by Hiroshima.
But…by turning weaknesses into strengths like in Vietnam a specific weapon can lose its initial effectiveness pretty quick and become useless.
The Internet is an infrastructure of information access. And as such it’s not a one-way street. The intention behind NSA operations is to early identify threats to homeland security and especially the leading element of its apparatus, the President, which can only be done by a) access to ALL information and b) intelligently filtering the signals of real threats out of the noise. It’s obviously a different thing, whether a NYT journalist writes about the WTC after 911 or an Arabian exchange student in Germany did so before 911. Although both might have used the exact same words.
Many media outlets, journalists and digital folks concerned about their privacy rightfully concluded option a) to be effective by amping up the efforts of encryption of all sensitive data.
What’s even more effective though, is option b) by making the noise explode. The Internet is a medium of exponential scalability.
If through viral exposure everyone using the Internet from tomorrow on ended every chat, every email, every blogpost, every text, every entry, every digital communication and interaction with the words “kill the president”, it would become impossible to filter through the noise and identify the signals that are real threats and not just smoke grenades to gain back some privacy. Intelligence would then have to rely again on instruments last used in the pre-digital era.
The infrastructure is there, the option of scalability is there. What lacks though, is a united voice of Internet users. And I’m aware that uniting them is impossible. I don’t even want to do so. It’s just a thought experiment on the most classical theme of every war ever fought: Strength can be turned into weakness, advantage into disadvantage.
(Note: This post originally appeared on my now closed Tumblr blog, which was intentioned to be the place for my shorter thoughts and ideas. After reading Gary Vaynerchuck’s new book “Jab, jab, jab, right hook” I’ve come to the conclusion that I wasn’t speaking the right slang for Tumblr and therefore re-imported those posts here as I still find them valuable as food for thought. I hope you enjoy those, too.)