PRISM NSA Scandal: Obama Says We Can't Have 100% Security and 100% Privacy, and He's Right


Benjamin Franklin said "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." What did he know? He didn't even have a basic data plan. His idea of cloud services was to go fly a kite. If privacy is a component of liberty then we freely give that up every day.

Americans are rightfully concerned that their Fourth Amendment rights are being violated as the government tries to protect our national interests. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit to that effect protesting the gathering of billions of phone records from Verizon. However, as it stands today, based on the technology available, President Obama is absolutely correct when he suggests that we are currently not in a position to deliver 100% security and 100% privacy.

Technology companies have provided very few consumer-friendly, easy to use, universally compatible solutions for secured digital communication. Laws have been slow to evolve and everyone from the government to the identity thief is taking advantage of this space.

The information highway known as the internet or the web has basically stripped away our desire to protect our communications. We have freely sacrificed privacy for convenience and ease of use and have become complicit in the free and unfettered dissemination of information to third-parties, including possibly subversives and cyber terrorists.

Government-sponsored hackers steal our trade and military secrets, while self-radicalized individuals plot and execute heinous crimes. In the meantime so-called whistle blowers like Bradley Manning release classified information to the internet and others like Edward Snowden openly negotiate with countries that are stealing our secrets.

This places the government between a rock and a hard place in trying to protect our national interests while at the same time protecting our right to privacy.

How did a service that was once built to enable secure communications for the defense department, and provide a secure method for research departments to share information, become the tool by which any government and lots of hackers obtain access to private subscriber information?

Well free market / free enterprise. Once, the commercial appeal of the networking technology, i.e. the web and the browser, became commonplace the need for security and privacy became subsumed by ease of usage requirements. Every new iteration of commercially appealing web-based services does less to protect our privacy and more to make us dependent on the internet. Apple's iCloud service brags about how convenient it is to "sync" your multiple devices — as long as you store all that content on their servers. People to this day "save their login" just so they don't have to re-type their user id (and in some cases their password) into a login screen. Web sites are designed using tools that can be easily exploited such as javascript and flash. Wi-Fi hotspots are free, but everything you do over those networks is freely and readily available to anyone with the right listening tools. Ease of usage in lieu of protecting your machine and data is a tradeoff that most web users are all too willing to make.

The internet has changed the playing field when it comes to privacy and security and wireless communications has exacerbated that paradigm shift. Anyone that has been on the job market knows that it is virtually impossible to get a job if you can't communicate through email or if you don't have a cellphone. Print journalism is dying a slow death and over the next 20 years the internet will completely replace the medium. The technology has grown to the point that you never have to venture into a bank, or shopping mall. All of that information is stored out there on billions of third-party servers and it is ripe for the picking. In fact a Freedom of Information Act request forced the National Security Agency to release techniques for finding internet security vulnerabilities. A technique known as "Google hacking."

Americans have set up an almost impossible scenario. The same protections that the government is providing as it relates to a free and open internet provide the means by which so-called enemies of the state plot and plan. Americans want protection from cyber terrorists and protection from self-radicalized individuals who exploit the internet. They also want a free and open internet. They want ease of usage, security and privacy, as well as ever expanding functionality and services over the internet. And most importantly, they want all of that in the context of maintaining our protections under the Fourth Amendment.

That is a tough nut to crack.

The only way to get 100% security and 100% privacy and be consistent with the Fourth Amendment is to wait for the commercial market to deliver user-friendly tools. As consumers and citizens we are in the position to demand solutions from the marketplace. Until then we will have to live with a national security effort hamstrung by laws that prevent us from using modern security and enforcement methodology.

And that means we will have to live with a porous national security effort.