Our "high-tech" government security apparatus threatens us all

For years now, I’ve been beyond angry at massively widespread, unconstitutional warrantless government spying on U.S. citizens. I cancelled my AT&T phone in protest and have refused to even talk to the AT&T folks who keep walking our neighborhood to get us to sign up for their high-speed TV/Internet/phone service.

Anyhow, if our government — which, in theory, serves us, not rules us — insists on spying on us and keeping incredibly detailed records on every American’s purchases, travel, online behavior, emails, phone calls, etc., they should at least use smart technologies to protect and audit access to and use of that data.

Today’s news gives no reason for confidence in our federal government’s ability to use technology with even a modicum of intelligence:

Employees at the Transportation Security Administration inadvertently exposed classified information about the agency’s security procedures because, apparently, they don’t know how PDF documents work.

What’s not clear is how many other government departments, legal agencies, healthcare providers, and other organizations that deal with sensitive information are unaware that a quirk in Adobe’s Portable Document Format can leave data open to prying eyes.

TSA officials posted what they thought was a redacted version of the TSA’s airport security operating manual on a Web site used by private contractors looking for government work. The problem: the officials didn’t actually delete sensitive parts of the document—they just blacked them out using a graphics tool.

That method left the underlying words intact, and they were exposed when readers cut and pasted pages from the document, “Screening Management Standard Operating Procedures,” into a new file.

I’m incredulous! You don’t have to be a tech guru or security guru to know that “blacking out” information in a PDF file merely adds an additional graphics layer that appears visibly atop whatever was underneath. The original data layer still exists, even if it’s not visible using PDF display software. This is basic, basic stuff.

If these morons are this dumb, I expect we’ll find out in five or ten years that the mob or government insiders have been massively abusing data on Americans to steal our money, blackmail us (or our Congressmen or our judges), and committing many other dastardly deeds.

Posted by James on Wednesday, December 09, 2009