Google made headlines when it went public with the fact that Chinese hackers had penetrated some of its services, such as Gmail, in a politically motivated attempt at intelligence gathering. The news here isn't that Chinese hackers engage in these activities or that their attempts are technically sophisticated — we knew that already — it's that the U.S. government inadvertently aided the hackers.
In order to comply with government search warrants on user data, Google created a backdoor access system into Gmail accounts. This feature is what the Chinese hackers exploited to gain access.
Google's system isn't unique. Democratic governments around the world — in Sweden, Canada and the UK, for example — are rushing to pass laws giving their police new powers of Internet surveillance, in many cases requiring communications system providers to redesign products and services they sell.
Many are also passing data-retention laws, forcing companies to retain information on their customers. In the U.S., the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act required phone companies to facilitate FBI eavesdropping, and since 2001, the National Security Agency has built substantial eavesdropping systems with the help of those phone companies.
Systems like these invite misuse: criminal appropriation, government abuse and stretching by everyone possible to apply to situations that are applicable only by the most tortuous logic. The FBI illegally wiretapped the phones of Americans, often falsely invoking terrorism emergencies, 3,500 times between 2002 and 2006 without a warrant. Internet surveillance and control will be no different.
China's hackers subverted the access system Google put in place to comply with U.S. intercept orders. Why does anyone think criminals won't be able to use the same system to steal bank account and credit card information, use it to launch other attacks or turn it into a massive spam-sending network? Why does anyone think that only authorized law enforcement can mine collected Internet data or eavesdrop on phone and IM conversations?
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