The post 9/11 climate was dominated by an anti-terrorist rhetoric that we have all come to be familiar with. Shortly after the gruesome, heart-wrenching incident, George W. Bush signed into action a bill called the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The new legislation gave the US military authority to use all ‘necessary and appropriate force’ against those that were determined to have ‘planned, authorized, committed or aided’ the September 11th attacks.
AUMF allowed the US military to chase down members of Al-Qaeda and its associated forces (an effort largely known by its moniker the ‘war on terror’ ), and was a piece of legislation that would ultimately be used to go after just about any target the US government felt stood in its way.
‘Associated forces’ came to mean any man of a military age in countries that were deemed to be collaborators with the enemy. Anybody who helped or harbored America’s enemies was instantly deemed a target, and a new and prolific form of warfare (namely that of drones) meant that these targets could be swiftly dealt a remote and powerful blow, even when the US government had no real idea who the target was, or whether it was a legitimate target at all.
Now, with the US military firmly positioned in and around the Middle East, in a strategic stronghold that allows them to continue unfettered the mighty will of their ‘military-industrial complex’, it would appear that the time has come to move mainstream consciousness into a different reality construct.
New Snowden documents published by the New York Times and Pro Publica reveal that the same kind of mentality which took over after 9/11 in regards to terrorism is now being assigned to the problem of cybersecurity. High level hacking incidents such as last December’s Sony hack, and the ISIS hack of US Central Command’s Twitter page, earlier this year, are being used as fodder to get the nation on board for a whole new set of liberty-infringing ideals.
When the war on terror was big news, liquids could no longer be brought on planes, and full body scanners were needed in all airports. Now, in the very same way, cyber terrorism – the threat that terrorists might have matured into cyber criminals – is being sold to the world as a reason for the unquestioning advancement of a total loss of online privacy for everyone. All for our own safety, of course!
According to the new documents, in 2012 the NSA was given permission to use its warrantless surveillance program to target Internet addresses, malware, and other ‘cyber-signatures’ associated with foreign governments who the NSA feels might be collaborating with their rivals. These documents also reveal, however, that both the FBI and the NSA used these extended powers to begin surveillance of ‘signatures’ unassociated with foreign or terrorist organizations, in order to hone in on domestic targets. As per usual, this was done in absolute secrecy.
The new Snowden revelations show that successful NSA lobbying led the Department of Justice to secretly extend the NSA’s powers according to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, in particular allowing the NSA to move away from simply targeting knowledgeable and advanced cyber criminals to being able to target IP addresses. This allowed for what is now recognized as the ‘bulk’ collection of both Americans’, and foreigners’ communication assets.
According to senior ‘white hat’ hackers, this is not actually a surprise, mainly because (black hat) hackers often use proxies and computers infected by malware to carry out their crimes, making it incredibly difficult to investigate malicious cyber activity without also targeting innocent peoples’ machines.
With this in mind, and with the level of intensity which both US and international intelligence agencies appear to be attributing to the need to gain full control over cyberspace, there has never been a better time to think about protecting your digital presence. By using a good VPN (some VPNs will happily hand over your data to the government) to obfuscate your machine’s location – and to hide your identity in general as you surf the internet – you afford for yourself evasion both from government surveillance, and anyone else who might be watching. The reason for this is that only the IP of the VPN will be visible, and not your real IP address.
Add to this the fact that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will only see encrypted traffic ( a hash of random numbers and letters instead of your browsing habits) and it is clear that by using a VPN you gain for yourself more privacy than the rest of the people on your street – and living in the full knowledge that governments are secretly doing this to us all – really brings the issue home.
Only we have the power to protect our own privacy, both in America and elsewhere, and we must protect this privacy or be happy to simply give away our every communication for bulk collection by these security agencies – agencies’ that claim to be protecting us, while slowly eroding away our inalienable human right of privacy. After all, if we take as evidence the way in which the US government used its newly gained powers in the ‘war on terror’ (killing with drones on a whim) as an example of how they are likely to behave in future while carrying out their new obsession of ‘cyber war’, it is fair to say that one is not left with much hope of fair treatment.
It is clear that the intelligence agencies’ perception of what constitutes a terrorist cyber attack, nation-state spying, or regular criminal activity, is incredibly fluid, as long as it gets them what they want. Considering that the new documents include an NSA report from 2011 which says that too much discrimination between said categories ‘could prove impractical’, it goes a long way towards divulging just where the NSA and FBI stand on these issues…