Header graphic for print
Wisconsin Business Law Blog Providing in-depth discussions, thought, creative, and innovative insights on Business Law innovative insights

Has the NSA Gone Too Far?

Posted in Operating a Business, Other Legal Issues, Tax, Technology Related Topics

Maybe its time for Americans to start taking sides on the issue of what their government ought to be spying on. While I have been no fan of Edward Snowden, I have also become no fan of the NSA. The longer this matter drags out, the more the NSA looks like it has become even more of a “big brother” than George Orwell imagined in his book,1984.

I have an iPhone, as I’m sure many of our readers have. If I misuse my iPhone to break laws, I would expect my government to have some right to get at what is on my iPhone to prove a case, presuming they have probable cause that a crime has been committed and that I was probably the criminal. But what if I’m not doing anything illegal? Should the government still have the right to follow me around, read my emails and voicemails, turn on my camera and microphone and record things? Such sci-fi activities certainly could not have been contemplated by our forefathers, but the concepts protecting an individual from such scrutiny were.

According to an article by Stephen Lawson for PCWorld’s “Best of PCWorld,” “the U.S. National Security Agency was developing in 2008 a software implant for Apple iPhones that allowed the agency to take almost total control of the device, including retrieving text messages and voicemail and remotely turning on its microphone and camera, according to a report by the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The article goes on to say: “The implant, code-named DROPOUTJEEP, was “in development” and initially intended for ‘close access’ installation on a phone, with remote installation being planned for a future release, according to an alleged NSA document with the date October 1, 2008, that Der Spiegel included in a graphic with its recent NSA report. DROPOUTJEEP’s other capabilities included remotely pushing and pulling files from an iPhone, retrieving the phone’s contact list and identifying the device’s location and the location of the nearest cell tower, the document said. The implant could do all this without the phone user’s knowledge, over SMS (Short Message Service) or a GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) data connection. All the software implant’s communications would be “covert and encrypted,” the document said.” See some interesting things Der Speigel says come directly from NSA’s own materials.

If iPhone hacking isn’t enough, the article then goes on to say, “The alleged NSA document describing DROPOUTJEEP was included in an interactive graphic published alongside a December 30 Der Spiegel report on a special hacking unit of the agency, which reportedly intercepts deliveries of computer equipment and installs spyware on it before it’s delivered to the recipients. The report cited internal NSA documents that Der Spiegel said it had viewed. The graphic included links to numerous documents about technologies that the hacking unit developed for infiltrating servers, firewalls, routers, wireless LANs, PCs, peripherals and cellphone networks.”

OK. So where does this all lead us? Should our government be able to put bugs into our computing devices before we start using them? Should they be able to enter into our networks to see what we’re doing? If they can plant files on someone’s computing device (and a smart phone is a computer!), then can incriminating evidence be planted? Will the government monitor the advice lawyers give their clients, such as tax advice?

I’d love to get a discussion going on this. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I personally don’t know exactly where the line should be drawn, but I certainly have some fears about people in positions of power being able to get rid of people they don’t like. Isn’t that what Kim Jong Un just did to his uncle in North Korea?