Why Sweden's Plan To Spy On Emails Does More Harm Than Good
from the needle-and-a-haystack dept
There’s been a lot of talk about the proposal from the Swedish government to monitor all emails crossing national borders for certain keywords that could suggest terrorist activity. It’s not surprising that such a proposal would get plenty of attention, but there are a few reasons why it’s simply a bad idea. The difference between this plan (if it’s put into place) and similar efforts in other countries is that most require court order or warrant — which adds a layer of oversight concerning whose content is open to monitoring. When it’s just open ended it’s not at all far-fetched to think that the system will be misused to spy on people who have absolutely nothing to do with terrorist activities. In a free and democratic society, you’re not supposed to spy on those people. A second issue is that the more you make it possible to access and spy on people’s emails, the more likely it is that someone with nefarious intent will also figure out a way to access those emails. Even if the government is made up of saints who will never misuse the information, by opening some sort of backdoor, someone else will figure out a way in — and that’s dangerous for everyone.
The biggest issue, however, concerns just how effective this type of monitoring really is in practice. Doing basic keyword or even contextual filtering will turn up a ton of false positives, making the haystack in which any needles need to be found pretty damn big. This actually makes it even harder to turn up the useful information, since anyone scanning the output becomes accustomed to false positives. The end result isn’t better security, it’s just a ton of excess data. Finally, those who actually are a threat have long known that their emails were open to monitoring, and have long moved on to various systems to hide their intent — whether it’s as simple as using code words or using some sort of encryption software to not using email at all — many of these people aren’t going to simply walk right into such a trap. There are much better means of tracking down and monitoring people who are dangerous to us. Setting up a broad system of monitoring and filtering emails sounds good on paper, but doesn’t do much to make people any safer.