‘NSA has carte blanche to hack computers’

The NSA appears to be making its own decisions about how democratic governments should be operating, what policies they follow and in general doesn't trust them to do their jobs, Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, told RT.

The latest revelations from Edward Snowden, published in Germany’s Der Spiegel, show that the NSA is not only listening to people’s phone calls and reading their e-mails, but actually has a special unit dedicated to bugging computers even before they get to the stores. Chips are installed in computers to be sold in geographical areas that the NSA deems to be worth spying on, the newspaper reports.

RT:Do the latest NSA revelations mean we can't even trust our own laptops?

Jim Killock: Sometimes it will mean that some people shouldn’t trust their laptops, but also governments have to [watch] their own security organizations, and parts of what Der Spiegel’s articles described today is how the NSA is hacking the Mexican government in order to find out more about how the Mexicans are dealing with drug issues, and so on. I think it’s really quite dangerous and dramatic because the NSA appears to be making its own decisions about how the democratic governments should be operating, their policies and not trusting them to do their job.

RT:Who could be the target of this operation to intercept laptops? Are we talking about foreign governments or individuals as well?

JK: Well, I think if we’re talking about altering people’s hardware and pre-installing viruses, I imagine that’s a fairly small number of devices. But we don’t know exactly how this is policed when the courts give individual authorizations or more likely they are giving a general authorization to the NSA to hack the equipment as they like. We need to know a lot about that, because that’s how you can control some of that behavior. But what these articles told about really is a whole department extremely well-resourced, employing some dozens of people and going up to hundreds of people in the next year or two to hack networks, individual people’s computer equipment and writing viruses like the Stocknet virus, which was used to hack the Iranian government’s nuclear facilities but also the Belgium National Telecoms provider in order to obtain information about the European Commission and the European Parliament, we suspect. These are very large operations targeted at individuals, governments and network providers to get all kinds of access to the information.

RT:Bugging personal computers is certainly illegal. So how could the NSA be arguing that it’s OK? What could be the possible argument to legitimize this?

JK: I think that’s exactly the question we need to hear the answer from the NSA. It is possible sometimes to make an argument that if someone is really a very serious, dangerous criminal, then maybe that person should have his or her computer hacked. But what I think we’ll probably find is that this is wider than that, certainly when we talk about governments, it’s necessarily wider than that. We’ll probably find that the supervision about these choices is not very sophisticated and doesn’t deal with individual cases – it is probably a blanket permission. And that’s where you get a lot of danger.

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