In a joint U.$. and UK spying operation, agencies hacked into links to Yahoo and Google data centers, allowing them to freely collect information from user accounts on those systems. This data collection project, called MUSCULAR, is a joint operation between the U.$. National Security Agency (NSA) and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Documents released by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden and "interviews with knowledgeable officials" are the sources for this news that was broken by The Washington Post on October 30, 2013. Google was "outraged" at this revelation, and many Amerikans were shocked to learn of the violation of their privacy by their own government.
Of course, for those of us serious about security in our political organizing work, this is not breaking news. It is just further confirmation of what we've been saying for a long time: email is not secure, especially email on the major service providers like Google and Yahoo. Back in August MIM(Prisons) had our email account shut down when the U.$. government demanded that our email server, lavabit.com, turn over information on the accounts it provided. Lavabit decided it would rather stop providing services at all than comply with the government's demand. We can only assume that any email service still in operation is supplying information to the U.$. government.
What is interesting about this story is not that the NSA is caught red handed snooping on people's email, but that they would even need to do this in the first place, when major companies are freely providing backdoor access to the U.$. government. A court-approved process provides the NSA with access to Yahoo and Google user accounts, through a program known as PRISM. Through PRISM, the NSA can demand online communications records that match specific search terms. Apparently this restriction to court approved search terms was too limiting for the NSA, who has been siphoning off vast portions of the data held in Google and Yahoo data centers, for analysis and more targeted snooping.
MUSCULAR gets around the already lax U.$. government policies on spying on Americans by exploiting links between data centers holding information outside of the U.$. where intelligence gathering falls under presidential authority and has little oversight or restriction.
As we pointed out in the article Self-Defense and Secure Communications: "Currently, we do not have the ability to defend the movement militarily, but we do have the ability to defend it with a well-informed electronic self-defense strategy. And just as computer technology, and the internet in particular, was a victory for free speech, it has played a role in leveling the battlefield to the point that the imperialists recognize computer warfare as a material vulnerability to their hegemony." In that article we provided some basic suggestions for communications self-defense, most of which are only possible for people outside of prisons.
As more information comes out on the vast resources invested in electronic surveillance it is clearer that improving our technology is a form of offensive work as well, even if we aren't launching attacks. The imperialists are spending a lot of resources trying to defeat the tools we mention in our last article. In using these tools in our day-to-day work we tie up those resources that could be used to fight other battles against the oppressed elsewhere. This should be stressed to those who think security is taking time away from "real work."
Some will not organize until they've read all of Marx's writings to ensure they understand Marxism. This is a mistake, just like waiting to get the perfect electronic security before doing any organizing work. But you should assume that all of our communications are being intercepted. Take whatever precautions you can to ensure your information cannot be accessed, or if it can, that it cannot be used against you or others. Security is like theory and any organizing skill; it should be constantly improved upon, but it should not paralyze your work.