One of the really big topics of 2013 was former NSA intelligence analyst Edward Snowden leaking thousands of NSA documents to journalists to detail the horrors of privacy invasion and personal data manipulation by the United States Government. It was huge news, but apparently not everyone understood exactly what kinds of privacy invasion was actually happening right under their noses. Well, John Oliver from the HBO show Last Week Tonight, picked Snowden’s brain to get him to explain just how little privacy you actually have in light of the NSA’s capabilities… all done through the euphemism of “dick pics”.
The 33 minute interview was recently uploaded over on the YouTube channel for the HBO show and you can check it out below.
At around the 25 minute mark, Oliver opts to take the discussion in a different direction because it was established that it’s a complex bit of information trying to process how information is taken or spied on by NSA. Instead of getting a technical breakdown using analytical jargon, Oliver redirects the question using “dick pics”. He asked a number of people how they would feel if their junk was being spied upon by the NSA and whether the private photos they send should be allowed to be intervened or captured by the NSA. The people interviewed answered with an emphatic “No!”
However, Oliver decided to ask Snowden if this was actually happening – the average American that Oliver interviewed believed that the U.S., Government was not and is not stealing or surveying through private “dick pics” but they are. I’ll get to the details about that in a minute, but Snowden first explained how and why they’re being intervened by the NSA, stating…
“If you have e-mail – like Gmail – hosted overseas or transferred overseas – or at any time, crosses outside the borders of the United States [picks up folder and waves it] your junk ends up in the database.”
Oliver questions about whether or not the photos (or data) would have to be sent to someone outside of the country for the information to be flagged. According to Snowden, that’s not the case. He states…
“Even if you send [the data] to somebody within the United States, your wholly domestic communication between you and your wife can go from New York to London and back, and get caught up in the database.”
This is actually outlined in one of the recent security and data acquisition bills that some were quite averse to. Bill H.R. 4681 actually details the process of acquiring information outside the domestic region of the U.S., and maintaining it within the database for up to five years before relinquishing it. Any data flagged – even if it’s foreign – would be retained within that designated time.
Oliver also asks about Executive Order 12.333 and whether or not it has reach to acquire or retain private or sensitive civilian data. According to Snowden…
“EO twelve triple-three is what the NSA uses when the other authorities aren’t aggressive enough or they’re not catching as much as they’d like.” […]
“When you send your junk through Gmail… that is stored on Google’s servers. Google moves data from data center to data center; invisibly to you, without your knowledge. Your data could be moved outside the borders of the United States, temporarily. When your junk was passed by Gmail, the NSA caught a copy of that.”
If you think this sounds kind of far-fetched or outside of the realm of reality… think again. The U.K’s Government Communications Headquarters, shortened to GCHQ, was highlighted in one of Snowden’s leaks for doing exactly what he explained above.
In fact, the program was called “Optic Nerve” and was done in association with pooled data from (or to) the NSA. This was covered previously as it tied into worries about Microsoft’s Kinect 2.0 for the Xbox One being used as a spying device, since it turned out that a lot of people were using camera devices for communication and happened to be sending explicit material via video chat. As mentioned in the document…
“Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography.”
The NSA had a press-ready response noting that their “foreign intelligence mission goals, and those operations comply with US law”.
However, they didn’t mean they tried to circumvent the law using bills like CISPA, also known as H.R. 624, which had to be heavily modified to remove many parts that would have enabled the NSA and like-minded security agencies to gain access to the various forms of spying that Snowden mentions above and it would be completely legal.
Nevertheless, this led to another hot button issue: Prism.
Oliver asked Snowden about Prism, a program where major companies that held private consumer and civilian data would turn that data over to the NSA with complete compliance. Major companies like Microsoft and Yahoo! came under heavy fire for complying to turn over user data, especially without notifying users about it until the program was leaked by Snowden.
According to Snowden…
“Prism is how they pull your junk out of Google with Google’s involvement.”
“All of the different Prism partners, people like Yahoo!, Facebook, Google, the Government deputizes them sort of to be their little surveillance sheriff.”
Oliver plainly asks…
“They’re a dick sheriff?”
To which Snowden states “Correct”.
They also discuss a program called “Upstream”… another method for how the NSA commandeers your private data and information. Snowden states…
“Upstream is how they snatch your junk as it transits the internet.”
They also discuss a few other methods and ways in which your private data could be slurped up by the nasty NSA internet spies.
The entire interview is well worth a watch. However, some people questioned why exactly Oliver took the low-brow route of using “dick pics” as the euphemism for broaching the subject matter. YouTube user Koray Pezukoglu explained it perfectly, stating…
“John Oliver in this episode, tries his best to make the American public understand what Edward Snowden did to protect his nation. “You can not expect everyone to be uniformly informed” says Edward Snowden. Which i believe is massive truth when its regarding American Nation whose media is totally controlled by corporations who serve no one else but themselves. John Oliver tried his best to make people understand what NSA is and what Edward Snowden did with downgrading the issue to a very basic form, so everyone, not necessarily uniformly informed could understand too, “Dick Pics”.”
Corrupt media who serves no one but themselves? Oh well, it’s almost as if some sort of consumer revolt should reach up and junk-punch the media in the balls to take them down a peg… some sort of revolution against the media to make it so it’s about ethics in journalism. I’m having a hard time coming up with a proper name for it, but if it were some kind of gate that could be passed through to initiate a new normal in the way media ethics were adhered to in the mainstream and independent space.
Anyway, the whole interview is well worth a watch if you’re concerned about your privacy… or the U.S., Government commandeering your “dick pics”.