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U.S. Spying? Don't Put Your Open Data in the Town Square! (Trouw, The Netherlands)


"In the Netherlands alone, 1.8 million telephone calls were tapped. But we make it so easy for the Americans. We conveniently forget that we're the ones putting all of our business information in unlocked safes in the middle of the town square or the Dam [in Amsterdam]. And then we're surprised that thieves and secret services are poking around! ... The cloud consists mainly of data centers where companies can store information. Some of those data centers are located in the United States, are American properties, and often make use of American software. That's a problem."


By Guido Van 't Noordende*



Translated By Marion Pini


October 25, 2013


The Netherlands - Trouw - Original Article (Dutch)

Escape from the NSA: Thanks to the agency's historic overreach, the rest of the world is looking for ways around its spying methods - and the use of American Internet companies that the agency has compromised.


EURACTIVE VIDEO, BELGIUM: Finland Prime Minister Katainen reacts to NSA spying allegations, Oct. 24, 00:01:24RealVideo

Eavesdropping is widespread - and we are all partly to blame. However, the government should set standards, if only to protect civilians, argues University of Amsterdam privacy and security researcher Guido van 't Noordende.


The bugging by U.S. spy agency NSA has led to disbelief and outrage in Brussels, but also in The Hague. In the Netherlands alone, 1.8 million telephone calls were tapped. But we make it so easy for the Americans. We conveniently forget that we're the ones putting all of our business information in unlocked safes in the middle of the town square or the Dam [in Amsterdam]. And then we're surprised that thieves and secret services are poking around!


While the opposition party in The Hague calls for debate, big companies advertise data storage in "the cloud." Whether this storage is adequately protected isn't specified - and eavesdropping isn't even mentioned. The cloud consists mainly of data centers where companies can store information. Some of those data centers are located in the United States, are American properties, and often make use of American software. That's a problem. For all U.S. software must meet U.S. anti-terrorism legislation and allow for the handy retrieval of data. Any unencrypted information in the cloud or sent over the Internet may be intercepted - not only by the U.S., but also the British, Chinese, or our own intelligence services.




The question is why the architecture of systems have been designed in such a way that this can happen. Why don't the government and companies choose a system in which eavesdropping is prevented? Or systems in which overcoming security is so difficult that it would only happen when absolutely necessary? Solutions are known. Information must be encrypted. Only the sender and receiver therefore have the keys to decrypt the data. Third parties, including the cloud administrator, have no access. As long as sender and receiver abide by the rules, this is how to keep the intelligence services out. Only the Justice Department, in case of concrete suspicion, should be able to demand keys from end users.


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The government can set standards. This end-to-end security is one such area. There would therefore be no unencrypted data in the cloud - unless it is absolutely unavoidable. This has consequences, for example, for the storage of medical records. At present, general practitioners often use central databases. Patient data, however, should be encrypted before it winds up in a data center. Furthermore, cloud-based storage of corporate documents is not a good idea - unless they are encrypted with a key that only the company has. End-to-end security is sometimes more difficult and expensive, but it is possible. The hacking scandal proves the need.


No brake


Leaks by Edward Snowden about the NSA have really forced us to face the facts. They have permitted us to see the scale of what everyone should have known: as long as we send out data into the world virtually unprotected, there is nothing to stop those who want to tap it. Especially in a democratic society, the government must ensure that citizens can protect themselves. Protections are also needed against the arbitrary use of power, for example, by future leaders. A government that fails to set adequate standards is partly responsible for the consequences, and cannot complain if someone else exceeds these non-prescribed standards. As long as we do nothing about the architecture of systems, and we don't force companies to pay much more attention to the security of our data, we have no one else to blame when it is abused.

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The opposition party in The Hague now wants to invite whistleblower Snowden to explain how eavesdropping on such a large scale is possible - and what to do about it. However, we don't need Snowden to tell us. We do, however, need politicians, lawmakers, and political parties, who understand how security works, who are interested in the rights and personal safety of citizens, and who are brave enough to protect them.


*Guido van 't Noordende  is a privacy and security researcher at the University of Amsterdam


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Guardian, U.K.: World Editors: 'What Guardian is Doing is Important for Democracy
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Posted By Worldmeets.US Oct. 25, 2013, 05:25am