The slides that changed the world


For a bit more than six months now, Edward Snowden and journalists from around the globe (but mostly The Guardian and The Washington Post) have been releasing slides — also known by more pompous folk as “digital presentations” — talking about NSA programs with alleged worldwide overreach, with vast amounts of data captured by the “all-knowing” and “all-powerful” government agency. While the evil intentions of the NSA are impossible to ignore, this massive release of “confidential data” doesn’t create the chain reaction that could be expected from such a huge threat to the “previous” secrecy of criminals. Slides, released by the press. There is a scandal, of course, as one would expect from people believing in massive surveillance, but what is happening? Maybe OpenBSD gained more (l)users, maybe some people have started to realise the State is not a benevolent entity… But how did the world change from such presumably massive “leaks”?

Not much? Maybe. But why? I don’t really know, maybe it’s because there is no proof, no tangible evidence. All the sysadmins I’ve talked to over the years have said one thing and one thing only: “if there is this kind of surveillance I don’t see it”. Of course, there is snooping by government agencies on private affairs, of course, you should be paranoid about computer security, of course, you shouldn’t trust the NSA, GCHQ or any other spies with fancy names, but can they know what you tell your lover late at night using ZRTP? Can they know anything but what you concede through notoriously unsecure networks? Can they suck petabytes of data from all around the Internet like those slides claim they can? Probably not. They could try, they probably already try, but they don’t have the skill to build datacenters that don’t catch fire, or to properly monitor their employees so they don’t snoop on their own sexual partners.

In the end, who should we fear: ourselves and our own tendency to believe, or malevolent entities? I fear neither. I am free, for now. I can say whatever I please but I certainly won’t say it over the phone.

The Internet is still ours, and they’re too weak to overpower us. Good luck, spy, and have fun.