It started with Blackberry, but now Skype and Google are in the sights

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Hate to say that I told you so, but indications are now heating up to target any secure platform with demands of open access by the so called security services:

As Research In Motion faces an increasingly public dispute with several countries over the ability to monitor communication on its BlackBerry devices, virtually all other major technology communications companies have remained silent on the issue. That may soon change: RIM is likely just the first test case.

The government of India indicated yesterday that RIM isn’t the only company from which it will demand greater monitoring access. State authorities listed Internet phone company Skype SA and Google Inc., provider of the wildly popular Gmail service, as targets.

The move signals that the issue of monitoring data traffic goes far beyond RIM’s encrypted BlackBerrys – and probably has more to do with a looming collision between the advance of digital communication and the security demands of the state than with the Ontario company’s technology.

The Globe & Mail

What’s amazing about this situation is that it will come to pass. It will be condoned and even readily accepted in a few days time. People have become immune to state interference in every facet of their lives, easily sold into the haze of “security” – what it actually is a perverted use of the security ogre to gain access to peoples’ lives.

I don’t mind if this access was required and mandated by legitimate security concerns. I wouldn’t even mind if there was a trusted legal structure in the countries requiring access which protects the gained information and protects against its improper and illegal use. Sadly, none of our countries – the Arab and Muslim world – has anything close to this requirement.

So the wheels are resolutely turning. Against normal people and for various security services. Services who are ungoverned and mostly above the law. Services which are archaic, improperly staffed and completely outdated. Services whose only contribution to the country of their residence is the attempted depletion of the columns of the unemployable. In ours, even that privilege is diverted elsewhere, in true “Athari” style.

The essence is, my friends, is that the so called “security agencies” we are “blessed” with, are ill-suited to challenges of this day and age. And with their refusal to change or even attempt to understand the modern psyche and connectiveness, and with the unabashed aid and support given to them by the ambiguous, partial and directed judicial systems, all of which are resoundingly playing into the bosoms of corrupt political systems, how can we but expect a calamity in the offing?

Look, it’s too much to hope for business (RIM, Apple, Google, Skype, etc) to side with “us”, even though we are their ultimate benefactors. It is governments and political institutions which stand between their products and our pockets. They’re not going to “stand their ground” and state that they’re not going to give away the keys to unlock our privacy. Mark my words, they will. RIM seems to have done so already in the big K. of S. A. and it will in all the other situations too quite readily – okay, they’ll moan and groan and act like a teenage virgin welcoming being ravished, but coyly mind you, at least to seem respectable and not too easy, RIM – as will Skype et al – will ultimately bend over and lube up.

What’s the solution?

I offer you none. Other than to direct you to Open Source. At least with no exclusive economic motive behind those products, and with the varied and disparate developers, maybe, just maybe we can delay the advent of our total violation.

Privacy, my friends, is gone.

  • Geg
    14 August 2010

    India next I believe! (That actually almost surprises me)
    How strong is the America(n) lobby for secure ‘business’ communication from whence Black Berry took it’s birth?
    You hit the nail on the head (you do that a lot bro.. how come?) and allude to a more sinister – warped mindset regarding this desire to ‘control’.
    I personally have no objection to an ID card with fingerprints, eye sockets, or big toe size. DNA on a data base even, whatever! Wouldn’t this be a better compromise for all honest beings, rather than the shallow ‘Big Brother’ excuse?
    If I want to critique a government decision, even a religion issue, or send saucy messages to my lover, then it should never be deemed public interest and no dirty little brain maggot should be reading it real time all in the name of state sensibilities (or is that perversions?). But yah just can’t get round it.
    Oh! Sorry, did they say ‘Security’ concerns? They may be right, but surely security concerns are far far greater in countries like the States where freedom is endemic, than say the UAE for example; so instead of spending what must be billions on snooping people’s private rants or sexual desires, with ‘their’ desire to close society down altogether, there must be a better way to focus directly on the issues of terror lunatics out there – and that would be cheaper no doubt.
    At any one time on Skype there are at least 16 million conversations going on. Of those a good few thousand will be lusty – of the rest I suspect a good number will be live romps on camera between the two parties who are missing each other.
    Who has the right to see that?

  • nhusain
    14 August 2010

    I think Khalid Al-Khalifa a person who has been educated in the west should be approached about this. He should advise the Saudi’s to open up their society with a system like Bahrain’s in terms of having a more open parliament etc. That way people’s ideas and thoughts can be channeled to the authorities in a more open fashion and the need to control their messengers will be diminished.

    • mahmood
      14 August 2010

      Sorry nhussain, which planet are you on?

  • Yacoob
    14 August 2010

    Isn’t it possible for individuals themselves to secure their own communications in such a way that these companies can’t monitor the content of said communications?

    If I’m not mistaken, if both sender and receivers of an email use PGP encryption for example, Google or anyone who gets the ability to snoop on the encrypted email won’t get to see the actual content of the email since they don’t have the key to decrypt the email.

    I suppose the bigger problem is there isn’t enough people who care about these intrusions on our privacy.

    • mahmood
      14 August 2010

      True Yacoob. And that’s what’s going to be my mission to educate and demonstrate to people how they can go about protecting themselves…

  • Jonathan
    14 August 2010

    Well, there is one solution:

    You could actually use opensource tools to encrypt your data, where there is no middleman who could open your encrypted data; such as PGP or Truecrypt, and then only people who you want to read your messages could.

    • mahmood
      14 August 2010

      Indeed Jonathan. People should be made aware of those tools and I shall.

  • Robert
    14 August 2010

    There are very few countries actually where what we would call “Privacy” is a right. In most of Western Europe and North America (say 1.1 billion people if we exclude Russia) there are hoops the security services have to go through to eavesdrop on us.

    In the rest of the world – 6.2 billion – there are no such controls. China, India and the other Asian countries do what they want, Africa and South America the same. So for approx 85% of the worlds population the prevailing governments have complete control over information and censorship.

    • mahmood
      14 August 2010

      That’s my main contention. At least in the “developed” world, people actually care and take their governments to book if they so much as muster the courage to restrict their freedoms, raise their taxes or do a plethora of other things. Hence, those governments are made to respect freedoms of expression and personal freedoms which are intrinsic to human rights. Ours, well, you know the story.

  • BuJassim
    14 August 2010

    BlackBerry (encrypted) + popular = banned

    Skype (encrypted) + popular = banned

    MSN audio chat (not encrypted) + not popular = not banned

    I guess the two common denominators are encryption + popularity

  • Matthew
    15 August 2010

    Don’t forget the secure Google mail:

    and secure Google searching:

  • stylo
    17 August 2010

    But i don’t think this step will be taken.. because Google Inc, is the Mother of Internet Society.

    • mahmood
      17 August 2010

      But the hold on a seat of power is much more powerful.