Government surveillance just got another bloody nose. This time it was some 500-top authors who have joined forces to denounce the degree of state surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden and condemned the West's spy agencies for undermining democracy.
The signatories, who come from 81 different countries and include Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Orhan Pamuk, Günter Grass and Arundhati Roy, say the capacity of intelligence agencies to spy on millions of people's digital communications is turning everyone into potential suspects, with worrying implications for the way societies work.
They have urged the United Nations to create an international bill of digital rights that would enshrine the protection of civil rights in the internet age.
Their call comes a day after the heads of the world's leading technology companies demanded sweeping changes to surveillance laws to help preserve the public's trust in the internet – reflecting the growing global momentum for a proper review of mass snooping capabilities in countries such as the US and UK, which have been the pioneers in the field.
The open letter to the US president, Barack Obama, from firms including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, will be followed by the petition, which has drawn together a remarkable list of the world's most respected and widely-read authors, who have accused states of systematically abusing their powers by conducting intrusive mass surveillance.
In my opinion, we have next to zero chance of curbing covert government surveillance. There's a reason that, Snowden notwithstanding, they keep it covert. They'll claim that's so that the bad guys won't be able to stay ahead of them but it's mainly people like us, you and me, they're worried about. Then again, it's also ordinary people their masters may someday want to use our personal information against. It's a powerful tool to do everything from finding excuses to incarcerate troublemakers to lesser forms of coercion or simply manipulating public opinion.
Which brought to mind a technical report I read some time ago about Chinese efforts to counter the F-35's state-of-the-art passive sensor systems. These systems supposedly give the pilot a 360 degree view of the battlefield. They're passive, meaning they receive data sent from other sources and that data enters the aircraft through portals or windows. All of which led some clever Chinese techie to figure out that those data-portals could be used by a defender to stream corrupt data into the F-35's systems and perhaps even scramble the aircraft sensors.
Maybe what we need to do is follow the Chinese example and find ways to leave garbage in places where the cyber-sleuths gorge on our personal data. Reduce the confidence level of data acquired from mass surveillance and force the snoops to go back to old fashioned, targeted surveillance of identified suspects.
Just an idea.