My Take

Snowden's revelations are chilling for us all

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 4:01am

The BRICS nations are banding together to protect their information security, it was reported over the weekend. Another report said companies were seeking out security firms to shore up their internet security.

Hey, what about you and me?

You have nothing to worry if you are not a terrorist. That is what the US authorities tell us after Edward Snowden revealed the country's National Security Agency has been tapping the phone calls and e-mails of millions outside the country, including Hong Kong.

They are copied and stored in gigantic severs in Utah to be checked "only if you are doing something illegal".

If you take all the messages you sent over the past couple of years, there is every chance most of your personal details, from passport and ID numbers to bank accounts to the name of your cat, will show up. But they assure you, if you are not a terrorist, you need not worry. No one is going to look through it.

But what if a secret agent or rogue agent is on a Rambo mission to China and looking for a false identity? Wouldn't it be a treasure trove for such an identity thief? Get some Hong Kong person's passport details, study them, forge a passport with an appropriate picture and voilà, he's on his way.

The stuff of Hollywood, you say? Just Google the killing of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai in early 2010. In an operation widely blamed on Israel's secret service Mossad, more than 20 forged passports of citizens of five countries were used.

OK, now you can argue the NSA, which has all these details, is supervised properly and a court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (which deliberates in secret) must look into the data. But the problem is, about 70 per cent of the work is done not by its employees but by firms contracted by the agency.

What guarantee is there that some of them won't be lured to dive into the stored data, maybe not for a covert spying mission but just to sell it at a profit.

Snowden, too, was a contractor. He just downloaded information he wanted onto thumb drives and walked out. The NSA had no idea what he had done until he surfaced in Hong Kong and the media started publishing his claims.

And they are saying we have nothing to fear?


Alex Lo is on leave