NSA Looking for Dirt to Defend the U.S.
NEWS ANALYSIS: New revelations allege that the National Security Agency looks for dirt on online viewing habits to discredit radicals.
When the U.S. National Security Agency scandal about online spying was first revealed, the defense offered by the NSA's leadership was that it's all being done in the name of national security. The latest revelations reveal that some of that defense involves taking offense by seeking to discredit radicals if they view adult content online.
According to a new report with data leaked from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the U.S. government agency is monitoring the online adult content viewing habits of "radicals." The leaked document identifies adult content viewing as an area of vulnerability that can be exposed to weaken a radical.
The basic idea is that by identifying an area of potential moral or ethical weakness in identified radicals, the NSA would have some kind of leverage to discredit the radicals.
As a tool of war, discrediting one's opponents is fair game. No terrorist should be able to hide behind a veil of perceived privacy on the Internet and if the terrorist's online viewing habits can be used to discredit him or her—why not?
The risk is that the reach and breadth of the NSA snooping capabilities is cause for concern. Given that the NSA seems to have near omnipotent powers for tapping into any form of online communication it chooses, the individual rights of non-radicals could potentially be trampled.
This newly revealed tactic of the NSA is also vaguely reminiscent of the tactic used 50 years ago in the era of McCarthyism in the United States. Then the fear wasn't terrorists; it was communists. History doesn't look kindly on that era, and it's important to remember the mistakes of the past.
This most recent leaked document is yet another in a seemingly endless stream of revelations coming from Snowden's whistle-blowing activities. At the end of October, there was a leak about how the NSA is able to tap into data center links from Google and Yahoo.
It seems like any and every tactic that can be imagined to track, infect and now discredit terrorists is in use by the NSA. The use of online viewing habits—in particular, viewing of adult content— shouldn't necessarily be all that shocking, when seen in that light.
At this point, we should all just assume the NSA is literally using every tool and method conceivable and inconceivable as part of its arsenal. That being the case, what's next? What else is left to be disclosed? Time will tell.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.