i absolutely loathe when people say things like this. people would nearly without exception treat you like a lunatic if you talked about the kinds of capabilities revealed by snowden prior to 2013. making references to ECHELON made plenty of people write me off as a paranoid crank.
the ex post facto 'everyone knew this' is a fucking crock.
However when I heard of this, everybody also knew this was just a conspiracy theory. The NSA records everything -- Hello, NSA person who inevitably reads this -- sure, but c'mon they wouldn't actually store any of it or even pay attention as long as you didn't use trigger words. And even then you knew they wouldn't actually listen to your conversation because why would they care about some rando on the internet.
So, no, everyone didn't know the NSA was doing what Snowden said they were doing. It just sounded familiar enough that it seemed like it wasn't news. I think the conspiracy theories (or leaks?) may have actually softened the blow of the revelations. "Oh, I guess the conspiracy theories were right. Huh, who'd have thought. Anyway, how's your sex life?". People carried on as if nothing happened.
I swear if we somehow found out that there really were aliens in Area 51 all along, techies would derail every conversation about it by pointing out how everyone already knew this. And the common man probably wouldn't even freak out because it doesn't sound like news.
They had to listen to all of it to listen for the trigger words.
How did you think they were listening for the trigger words?
Secondly, I wasn't making an argument, I was describing how people at the time would think about claims like "the NSA records every conversation".
There are flaws in the argument (well, duh) but that's not even the point. The full extent of NSA surveillance was so absurdly unthinkable that people would go out of their way to rationalize anything as long as it was less preposterous than claiming the NSA literally taps, records and stores all Internet traffic.
* The NSA doesn't spy on people, that's absurd
* The NSA doesn't spy on people outside the US, that's absurd
* The NSA doesn't spy on innocent, law-abiding people, that's absurd
* The NSA doesn't spy on me, that's absurd
* The NSA doesn't spy on me as long as I don't act suspiciously, that's absurd
* The NSA doesn't spy on me all the time, that's absurd
* The NSA doesn't record everything I do, that's absurd
* The NSA doesn't store information it collects about me, that's absurd
* The NSA doesn't store all information it can collect about me, that's absurd
Also, the way I recall it, at the time the conspiracy theory was (likely due to the popularity of the X-Files at the time) "the FBI is reading our IRC chatlogs", which is a far cry from "the NSA is rerouting all internet traffic", which is what we now know to be true. Not only does it seem less nefarious (law enforcement vs literally spies) but the scope was far more plausible (the network operators might cooperate with law enforcement).
Heck, even Guantanamo and drone strike assassinations seemed implausible back then.
Weirdly when I posted the comment that you replied to HN said "please try again", which made me think the comment hadn't posted. Thus the re-wording.
Sure, "the NSA listens to stuff" wasn't a revelation, but before 2013 very little of this was taken seriously outside of a few corners of tech and cybersec.
again, just not the point. This _essay's_ argument would be completely valid in the main, regardless of what technical ability exists _or is falsely claimed to exist_, because the problem is one of power politics, emergent properties of _homo_sapiens_ in 20th century-style bureaucracies, and the cultural history of western intelligence services.
And come on, maybe reconsider the assumption that your interlocutors haven't got the requisite historical background. If we're comparing bibliography size, you may find you come up short, given the number of FOIA-request documents from FBI and CIA I've been through in the past 15 years, not to mention secondary sources on intelligence outfits from around the world.
Here's a fun example of the organizational madness of the US's chief counterterrorism bureaucracy, the FBI. During the late 40's and 50's there was a fear that the Ruskies would target homosexuals in the State Department for blackmail. This lead to all sorts of purges and ugliness, but crucially, the only case of a homosexual's being suborned in
this manner was one in which the FBI itself blackmailed a State Department employee to prove that it was a threat.