Just around a year ago Edward J. Snowden removed some highly classified documents from the digital files of the National Security Agency in the USA. He did it apparently using a fairly basic digital tool. One year on there is still no technology in place to stop it happening again.
The piece of technology Mr Snowden used was a Web Crawler – the same piece of technology that trawls the internet looking for (for example) email addresses. If you ever get some junk mail and wonder how someone got your email details, it would be through some irritating person using a Web Crawler.
Since then, the NSA says that it has installed security upgrades… although not everywhere. Meanwhile no one is saying why the NSA could not detect why a Web Crawler was able to work away through its systems over such a period of time without being spotted.
And that really is the heart of the problem.
Now during the fall out of the affair, the intelligence expert James Clapper suggested that American intelligence agencies do not collect information on domestic communications. He has since retracted that but in doing so said that the US cannot “guarantee that we’ll never have another Edward Snowden.”
All of which is rather interesting – but it seems to me to by pass one fundamental issue. The reason that all the private conversations could be tapped, and that the American secrets could be leaked, was because everything was in digital format.
To put it another way, and very bluntly, if you want to send me a secret, send it by letter. OK, if you must, put it in code, but basically send it through the post. Virtually nothing coming through the post in terms of being a simple letter, is checked. Suspect packages are of course looked at carefully, but within the post, not much more.
So let’s imagine that America had not had all this digital information in terms of emails, phone calls and the like, but that instead it had had lots of data in terms of printed and handwritten material. What then?
Two things in fact. First, it is unlikely that anyone would have physically broken into the NSA centre at Fort Meade, Maryland and got away with it. And even if there had been an inside job going on, it would have taken 100 lifetimes to find anything helpful among all the paperwork.
Thus my thought is, if you want to transmit and later store something, the best thing to do is to put it on paper and store it in a safe storage facility like Admiral. At the same time it is probably a good idea to have a decent index system, also kept on paper, and maybe have that coded in case it falls into the wrong hands.
Oh yes and you might like to encrypt all that paperwork – although that is probably overkill. After all no one thinks paper contains secrets any more. If they did, they would probably be searching our letters.
You can read more about Admiral Document Storage on our website at www.archive-document-storage.co.uk
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