Internet turned into ‘giant surveillance platform’ by NSA

Bruce Schneier tells Dublin audience secure web is in everyone’s interest

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has turned the internet into a "giant surveillance platform," a leading security specialist has said.

Bruce Schneier, who has written extensively on digital security and privacy, told an audience in Dublin tonight that the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden of large-scale surveillance by the NSA showed that we were living in a "golden age of surveillance."

In a lecture for the human rights group Front Line Defenders, Mr Schneier said the NSA's role changed completely after the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence agencies were given "an impossible mission: never again." "The only way to ensure something doesn't happen is to know everything that is happening," he said.

This desire to “collect everything” coincided with changes in technology, notably the spread of smartphones, the rise of cloud storage and the fact that it became cheaper for individuals to store data and thereby leave deeper digital footprints for the state to pursue. “The NSA has turned the internet into a giant surveillance platform,” he said.


It did this largely by "piggybacking" on corporate capabilities, and in an environment where the public largely acquiesced. "If the government said 'you have to carry a tracking device with you 24/7, we would never agree to that. Every morning we put a cellphone in our pocket, which tracks us 24/7. If you were told, 'every time you make a new friend, you have to inform the police', you would laugh. But you do that on Facebook. "

Mr Schneier warned that by making the internet less secure, states were making it easier for criminals and hackers to compromise systems using similar methods. And while the US was in a privileged position, as a hub for internet communications and home to a large number of technology firms, “similar things” were being done in countries such as China and Russia. “We have to make a choice here. We have built an insecure internet. We have enabled everyone to spy... We have broken the fabric of trust on the net.”

Human rights organisations feared that nothing could be done to counteract state surveillance, but this wasn’t true, Mr Schneier said. “There is a lot that can be done, technically, to make ourselves safer from all attackers, all eavesdroppers. But this is a political problem, because we are building an infrastructure where surveillance is possible. We need everyone to realise that a secure internet is in everyone’s interest.”

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times