Software Developer Incompetence Allays Spying Fears

All Your Base
All Your Base

As a software developer, I am not overly concerned that the NSA is watching everything I do. Because, I can tell you directly, software developers are incompetent, and creating even a small program that does something useful takes a long time.

I don’t know how the NSA gets data from the various companies (Google, Facebook et. al.), but I am sure it’s not through some direct feed. The amount of data would be overwhelming and the gov’t goons wouldn’t know how to process it anyway. It is all Facebook and Google can do to process their own data, knowing the algorithms and data structures and paying thousands of skilled people at their company to make sense of it. Third-party people outside the company wouldn’t stand a chance of processing even a millionth of it.

Instead, it must be as others have surmised: these big tech companies are told by the gov’t to give them X records/metadata and then they fork it over in a digestible lump. Disturbing? Yes. Real-time, direct access to your emails–as you type them!–not so much.

Now, what is still scary is something Snowden mentioned: your email or phone call metadata triggers an alert: you used some keywords or called a number that at one time was questionable in some way. Now there is “reasonable cause”–perhaps–to begin tracking your communications more closely. The gov’t doesn’t have the chops to intensely scrutinize 400 million people, but five or ten thousand? Sure. And if you get on that list, whether because the IRS detected the word “tea party” or “pro-life” in your email or because you called a wrong number that happened to be a bad dude of some kind, now you are being watched closely, and perhaps that information will be useful against you one day.

It’s clear that what began under Bush has metastasized under Obama. In this regard, he is in fact worse than Bush, as difficult as that fact is for his supporters to admit. He promised that he wouldn’t spy on Americans, and now that we know he has been, he stands up there and blandly defends his hypocrisy with the usual rhetorical garbage that his opponents saw through six years ago. Obama is not principled: whether on pro-life, or on the Constitution, or on war.

Make no mistake though: as much as I think Obama’s actions have been and are awful, if a Republican president is elected next, unless we the people loudly oppose these intrusions by the gov’t, a Republican will take the baton from Obama and run with it. All of them think that they will only use this power for good, but like the One Ring, it corrupts anyone. Gandalf knew that and refused the Ring. Obama did not, nor will the next Republican president, unless we stand up against this today.

For now, take hope in software developer incompetence, and security through obscurity. There are hundreds of millions of Americans. Shuffle in a single-file along with us other drones and you *probably* won’t be singled out for further “observation.”

As a postscript, I interviewed in college with the CIA and I think with the NSA. I almost went to work for them. Glad that I didn’t, now.

8 thoughts on “Software Developer Incompetence Allays Spying Fears”

  1. Thanks for the info, Devin.

    There’s no hope in the princes of this world. The tendency of govt. is to control.

    That is why our Founders advocated smaller govt. The smaller govt., the better. But I think the horse has jumped the corral.

    1. Steve, that’s right. The gov’t gets a little more power, and then a bit more, and it never relinquishes any of it, and eventually it has too much power. We are in that situation now, perhaps at an inflection point where the scales start to tip.

  2. Yes, you’re right in the technical details.
    But it’s the idea that the government has no philosophical qualms about doing it – that’s what is scary. That’s why we should be upset.

    1. Steve, thanks for your comment. And I agree with you about what the real problem is. Whether we Americans have the gumption and virtue to vote out the legislators who have no qualms about doing this spying, is another question.

  3. Devin,

    While the technical difficulties you mentioned are real, they can be easily circumvented by the service providers being compelled to provide feeds in a certain format that can then be processed by the NSA.

    And, indeed, as the revelations by Snowden and, before him, Binney (v. http://nyti.ms/11TJOgO ) indicate, the information is not processed in real-time, but merely stored in massive databases which can then be processed in batch. Then, the inherent laziness and carelessness of us, software developers, have more time to be mitigated, so I get no comfort from this while the Bill of Rights is shredded.

    You see, on paper, America is supposed to be a free country. However, where else in the world are you subject to government intrusion on the life of innocent civilians, be it at the airport or in cyberspace and your guilt is assumed until proven otherwise? Not a good set of countries to stand with…

    You see, in my home country an agency like the NSA would be an impossibility. Not because of our righteousness or of our constitution, quite the contrary, but because of widespread corruption. The build up of this agency would be mired by rigged bids, late and defective equipment and outright siphoning of financial and material resources to private pockets. In a way, and I never thought I’d utter this, corruption guarantees freedom in my country, for I am left alone everywhere, even in airports and in cyberspace. So, though on paper it should be a much less free country than America, in actuality, it’s more the land of the free than the US. :-)

    Besides, everyone loves our national soccer team!

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