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Shallow Surveillance Efforts Like PRISM Will Only Catch The ‘Stupidest, Lowest-Ranking Of Terrorists’

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Tech Dirt
June 25, 2013

Government officials keep assuring the public that these surveillance programs are in place to track terrorists and prevent further violent activity aimed at our nation. But much of what the government actually tracks and collects is nearly useless. It’s aimed at the sort of platforms and communication devices used by the general public — the sort of people who make use of the “top level” because they actually have nothing to hide.

Leonid Bershidsky argues that casting the net wide, but only to a shallow depth, won’t actually “catch” anything but the most inept of terrorists.

The infrastructure set up by the National Security Agency, however, may only be good for gathering information on the stupidest, lowest-ranking of terrorists. The Prism surveillance program focuses on access to the servers of America’s largest Internet companies, which support such popular services as Skype, Gmail and iCloud. These are not the services that truly dangerous elements typically use.

Truly dangerous people are smart enough to know to avoid anything easily tracked, surveilled or easily exposed. There may be a little value in catching anything that briefly rises to the surface or surveilling the “public faces” of terrorism, but those serious about their agenda will be operating far below these easily-tapped sources.

In a January 2012 report titled “Jihadism on the Web: A Breeding Ground for Jihad in the Modern Age,” the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service drew a convincing picture of an Islamist Web underground centered around “core forums.” These websites are part of the Deep Web, or Undernet, the multitude of online resources not indexed by commonly used search engines.

The Netherlands’ security service, which couldn’t find recent data on the size of the Undernet, cited a 2003 study from the University of California at Berkeley as the “latest available scientific assessment.” The study found that just 0.2 percent of the Internet could be searched. The rest remained inscrutable and has probably grown since. In 2010, Google Inc. said it had indexed just 0.004 percent of the information on the Internet.

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This article was posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 11:19 am

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