Phil Zimmermann on NSA and the surveillance state. A must read


Phil Zimmermann created PGP in 1991, which was open source public key cryptography available to all and even then, the government tried to shut him down. He just closed Silent Circle, the encrypted communications service he co-founded, rather than deal with the NSA interference he knew was coming. Om Malik of Gigaom just interviewed Zimmermann about Snowden, NSA, and the surveillance state. Emphasis added.

Om Malik: We suddenly find ourselves in a very confusing landscape, grappling with the enormity and speed of changes. I was wondering if you could try and make sense of this post-Snowden world and what it means for the long term.

Phil Zimmermann: The surveillance landscape is far worse than it has ever been and I feel like that everything we do is now observable. All of our transactions and communications are all fused together into total information awareness apparatus. I don’t think any of this can be fixed merely by the application of cryptography. It is going to require some push back in the policy space. We are going to have to have Congress react to this and we need to get population to react, perhaps through the economic consequences face of losing a lot of business for American internet companies. Maybe American internet companies can push back because of economic harm that comes with the rest of world turning its back on us.

When a government turns its powerful surveillance tools on its people, it has impact on the political opposition within the country. The power of incumbency becomes greater and opportunities for democratic process become less and are undermined.

Everybody today is more aware that Facebook monetizes your data and when we don’t pay for the service, you are really the product. You are not Facebook’s customer, advertisers are Facebook’s customer. Same is true for Google. You become an asset that they monetize and sell to their customers, aka the advertisers.

Big data intentionally creates a concentration of data and has a corrupting influence. It really concentrates the power in the hands of whoever holds that data — governments, companies.

A lot of people are getting more cynical because we are living in a surveillance state. Cynicism is the fertile soil where corruption can grow. Cynicism has a paralyzing effect and I think we need to resist that temptation of cynicism and hold on to our ideals in order to bring about change and push back.