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NSA Prism: Inside The Modern Surveillance State


Dystopia used to seem sexier. In George Orwell’s 1984 , Big Brother used non-stop wars and ever-present surveillance to keep the population in check. A stray glance or thoughtcrime might send you to the slammer. Who wouldn’t rebel against that?

In today’s increasingly wired — and wireless — world, however, the surveillance situation is much more banal: Under the NSA’s Prism program, APIs installed on servers running at Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other technology giants give government spooks access to meta-data relating to communications and phone calls. It is signals intelligence meets big data and analytics, with a self-writing sales pitch that seems tailor-made for the Big Three: “Mass surveillance to monitor for suspected terrorists across the entire United States, for only $ 20 million.” Data storage, no doubt, costs extra.

To top it all off, the design of the top secret Prism PowerPoint documents — leaked by Edward Snowden, 29, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton who’s done contract work for U.S. intelligence agencies — are, in the words of renowned design guru Edward Tufte, “dreadful.”


But the biggest problem with the NSA’s program is that it has all the hallmarks of an “engineering first” mindset, along these lines: With all of that metadata floating in the ether, why not build it and see what secrets it might reveal? The same philosophy appeared to be behind Google’s Street View program, in which a “rogue engineer” pursued wardriving by design, capturing Wi-Fi data for later analysis. Numerous governments fined Google for privacy violations.

Network Computing

Categories: General.

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