When it comes to the NSA, I just can’t help myself, it’s like trying not to look at a car crash. I don’t want to know how deep this runs, or how bad it really is, but at the same time, I know that burying my head in the sand doesn’t help anything. I read all the stories, report on many of the revelations, and spend too much time thinking about how certain sites, equipment, and apps that have become fully integrated into our lives are really just portals for the government to glean private information. I’m far from the only one who’s disgusted by the NSA (all of Europe agrees), and it seems Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is even more pissed off than I am.
A few days ago, Zuckerberg posted his feelings about the internet and security:
To keep the internet strong, we need to keep it secure. That’s why at Facebook we spend a lot of our energy making our services and the whole internet safer and more secure…The internet works because most people and companies do the same …The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.
Zuckerberg says he’s “confused and frustrated” by the U.S. government, so much so that he called up President Obama to express himself. It’d be pretty awesome if Zuckerberg revealed that he’d gotten Obama’s number via hacking, but it appears he went through more conventional channels to get the big man’s digits.
Zuckerberg’s post is vague with regards to the conversation, but he sums it up in single sentence: “Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.” Well, sure, but I’m sure he didn’t need to call the president to realize that.
As much as I agree with Zuckerberg, there’s some undeniable hypocrisy here too. Facebook makes a slew of money by gathering our personal information, tailoring ads, and adjusting our newsfeeds, and the company’s foray into deep learning will only increase those efforts. But the distinction here is that Facebook doesn’t hack (until we learn otherwise). Zuckerberg’s phone call was largely prompted by yet another recent revelation about the NSA’s plans to infect millions of computers with malware to gain access to personal information. Recent reports (this fantastic Intercept article outlines all the details) also indicate that the NSA, “masqueraded as a fake Facebook server, using the social media site as a launching pad to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive.” The much-maligned intelligence agency has also sent out malware via spam emails. Once used only for elusive targets, these hacking techniques have recently been used on a frighteningly large scale. Among other things, spreading malware might make systems susceptible to other attacks and hacking.
On January 17, Obama announced a policy dictating that, “signals intelligence shall be collected exclusively where there is a foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose to support national and departmental missions, and not for any other purposes.” But the President’s credibility on his matter is understandably thin. I don’t buy it. Neither does Angela Merkel. And neither does Mark Zuckerberg. I just wish that mattered more.