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The NSA in Your OS: The High Price of Secrecy

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Message Michael Riggs
Several news outlets have announced that Microsoft and Apple both received help from the National Security Agency on their respective operating systems, Windows Vista and Apple OS X. This ought to be reassuring. In an ideal world, a corporate/government collaboration could help to ensure greater security for the general public as well as specific groups of government users.

But we do not live in such a world. We live in George W. Bush's America, where the same agency that brought us new and frightening levels of wiretapping, mail opening, and National Security Letters that may open an investigation into an individual's electronic communications while compelling corporate silence and without a single word of notification, now asks us to believe that the collaboration with two corporate computer giants is entirely benign, that whatever agency employees got up to in Redmond was done for our benefit and for our greater good.

All of that might be true. There is no specific reason to believe that Microsoft or Apple or the NSA knowingly created back doors, ones that might be nearly impossible to detect and nearly impossible for users to plug. On the other hand, given the NSA's recent record of unwarranted (literally) surveillance, we have no reason to trust them either. We are being asked to trust without reason, and to trust an agency that not only has collaborated with major multinational corporations, but has the ability to compel their silence without any public notification of that restriction.

Perhaps it is all benign. Perhaps the intervention of the agency will help us all to stop downloading malware, or prevent an al-Qaeda worm from starting World War III. And perhaps not. We are being asked to trust without warrant a government agency that invades our privacy without extending to us the same courtesy. And that queasy feeling many of us will experience as we contemplate the NSA in Redmond? That is the sick feeling of doubt and fear- it is the high public price of government secrecy.


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I am a freelance writer in Seattle.
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