For the past week or so, the world is abuzz with the news that the National Security Agency in America is trying to listen into every conversations in the world. I do not think it surprised any techie that NSA is trying to listen into every conversations, or indeed it is trying to develop the capability to do so. As for the fact that big tech companies might be lending them a hand? That is not news either.
What strike me is the reporting from BBC News I believe, that the reason NSA is trying to get big tech companies to give it a hand is because we are getting increasingly good at protected our communications, i.e., we are encrypting our data. This means it is difficult for them to find out what we know. Unfortunately for us but fortunately for them, our love for big tech companies means all our information are centralized in a few big silos, and the keepers to the silos have the keys to our encrypted information. Thus, if they are bed fellows with our beloved tech companies, they can get a lot of information through digital “pillow talk”. This, I believe, is what NSA is very very good at.
What is the consequence of this revelation? I think we will start to see decentralization of information. It is true that NSA and other spy agencies will find modern encryption a hurdle, so one who seeks to evade them will stop using the data silos. Therefore, we will probably see more truly pear-to-pear communication which does not use a central authority, just in case the central authority is compromised. At work I already see a variation of this but for a different reason: We rejected a few proposals to use web-based services because the people who proposed it cannot be sure that the data do not hop to the United States because the PATRIOT act will make us fall foul of EU regulations.