Bad Tesseractors

Remember in The Avengers when it was revealed that Selvig, a scientist Loki brainwashed to do his bidding, had programmed a failsafe measure into the device he had created to harness the power of the Tesseract, and that failsafe was the villain Loki’s own scepter? Imagine that scenario with the good and evil dynamic reversed and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the new revelation, courtesy of ProPublica and The New York Times, that the NSA has been circumventing many of the encryption and security tools put in place to protect online communications from prying eyes.

NSA agent.

NSA agent.

For this disclosure we can thank former NSA agent and current Russian tourist Edward Snowden, whose data dump contained documents that uncovered the NSA’s secret efforts to undermine Internet security systems using code-breaking super computers and collaboration with tech companies to hack into user computers before their files could be encrypted.

The most nefarious aspect of this revelation, however, is the NSA’s attempt to “introduce weaknesses” into encryption standards used by developers that would allow the agency to easier hack into computers. So now, not only has the NSA flouted basic civil rights and U.S. law, they’re simply playing by their own rules. They couldn’t win the right to insert a “back door” into encryption standards in their 1990s court battles, so they gave the middle finger to the law and tried again anyway, but this time in secret. It’s a betrayal of the social contract the Internet was founded on, says engineer Bruce Schneier, and one that needs to be challenged by engineers who can design a more secure Internet and set up proper governance and strong oversight.

The worst part of all this is that there’s probably some twisted legal justification for this somewhere. Starting in Bush’s administration and continuing into Obama’s, the dark world of “homeland security” has received both tacit and explicit approval from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches for its increasingly Orwellian surveillance techniques — all in the name of “national security.” I’m sure there’s a lot of good being done behind the scenes at the NSA, CIA, and other clandestine organizations, but really, who are we kidding?