The recently reported theft by American and British intelligence of SIM card codes for potentially billions of smart phones around the world may be a tipping point in thinking about how much crime a democracy is willing to allow its spies to commit. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung columnist Jasper von Altenbockum writes that ‘If even American or British intelligence agencies are so unscrupulous, others will be even more so,’ raising questions about whether and when such activity crosses the ‘police state’ threshold.
For Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Jasper von Altenbockum begins by examining why the NSA and its British counterpart GHCQ would execute such a massive theft:
The “Gemalto hack” won’t be the last surprise Edward Snowden’s arsenal has in store for us. Even so, is the theft of SIM card codes a surprise to anyone? The American and British intelligence services that stand accused of this piracy would only have been choosing the easy path: Why go through the trouble of cracking encryption when stealing codes is so much faster and easier? Why bother to seek a warrant when the data can so easily be hacked and hijacked? For anyone surprised by all this, here’s a hint: that’s how intelligence services operate. They are even meant to operate that way. If they weren’t allowed to do so, we wouldn’t need intelligence services.
As with all of the Snowden revelations, the extent of this alleged state data theft isn’t quite clear, nor is it clear whether it even took place as claimed by the Web site The Intercept. Bloggers who are not as taken with Snowden as are “true believers” had their doubts when the Gemalto story broke, and now that Gemalto has denied the hack story, they can feel vindicated.
But since the intelligence services practiced electronic surveillance and systematically spied on the security firm’s employees in order to access as many records as possible – which Gemalto doesn’t deny – it is only natural to recall the image of the “haystack”: They may only be looking for a pin, but to do so they want the entire haystack, i.e.: everything.
This raises the old question of whether security policies based on the philosophy of the haystack undermine what it purports to protect: freedom and justice. It also raises the question of whether there are governments in Washington and London that can and desire to exercise even partial control over all the mischief committed in their names.
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