The most worrying thing about the Snowdon leaks, in my opinion, is the complete lack of attention the whole debacle has seen on BBC News. BBC News is supposed to be neutral, but were it to be your main news source, you’d probably have heard of some chap called Snowdon and you might have a vague awareness that the NSA were doing some things they maybe shouldn’t have, but that’s just what they do, right? If you were particularly savvy you might know there’s a connection between Snowdon and the NSA, but really, most of what you’d have read would relate to his whereabouts over the last 8 weeks or so.
But what you certainly wouldn’t know is that GCHQ taps the UK’s internet backbone (which is terrifying – and has huge implications, since I suspect we must route a fair bit of traffic between mainland Europe, the US and Scandinavia), that the NSA have software in place which can, amongst many other equally impressive features, “show me all exploitable machines in a given country”1, and that the US taxpayer funds £100m of GCHQ’s budget!.
There’s a reason all those links point to the Guardian. It’s because despite these revelations being earth shattering at even the most superficial of inspections, The Guardian are basically the only ones reporting them. Compare and contrast to the story of phone hacking: When some private investigators listen to a few people’s voicemail, it’s front page news seemingly for months – when GCHQ listens to everyone’s emails, social network activity, google searches, instant messages, nobody cares? Right.
Except The Guardian.
Sometimes the Graun feels a bit tabloidy and I go back to BBC news, but then something like this happens and I start to wish my license fee went to the Graun instead.
1. I find this particularly worrying. The NSA almost certainly has back-doors in Microsoft and Apple OSes, how about Linux, FreeBSD, etc? Open source is harder because it has to be in plain sight without (most of) the contributors’ knowledge. Not impossible, but there’s a constant risk someone will notice, at which point you make it that much harder to do it again. But the problem is far deeper – how about networking hardware, should we assume the average router is backdoored? Probably…