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    That is beyond weird to me.

    Perhaps I’m missing some context, but if I were instructed by my boss to help create a fake but top secret version of my team’s consumer product, I wouldn’t be anywhere near as comfortable as this guy seemed to be.

    Maybe it’s that this was all happening pre-Snowden, or maybe it’s an American vs. Australian thing. But I wouldn’t even trust that the gentlemen involved were actually from (or perhaps solely from) the agency they claimed to be, let alone that their work was even halfway legal or constitutional.

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      Perhaps the biggest thing that was lost with Snowden’s revelations is trust. Undoubtedly intelligence services are doing all sorts of important work, and some amount of secrecy is required so we need to trust them to make the right calls. But many people feel – quite rightfully – that this trust has been betrayed, which among other things makes the legitimate work harder.

      Generally speaking though, if they’re willing to spend this much effort on something then it’s probably targetted at a very specific and narrow use case, which is probably a legitimate one.

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        But many people feel – quite rightfully – that this trust has been betrayed, which among other things makes the legitimate work harder.

        Exactly. Government does not have the resources nor capability to do everything it legitimately must. No single organization can. So, it goes out to other companies who do have the required knowledge and ability. That’s just how it would all fit together. This worked great so long as it was expected that our government was beholden to the ideals behind our nation’s founding.

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        The tone of this post doesn’t surprise me. I’ve read a few stories like this from the early 2000s, and heard a couple more in person—all with fairly similar attitude towards helping the government.

        I do think pre/post-Snowden explains the disconnect. We’ve been living in a post-Snowden world for 7 years now. At this point it’s hard to remember, but I don’t think many people seriously believed in government mass surveillance before. Not at the scope or scale Snowden revealed.

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          Edward Snowden’s revelations were important, but there was lots of information about government mass surveillance before him. Echelon was written up in 1988 (PDF), and investigated by the EU parliament in 2000. There was coverage of post-9/11 warrantless surveillance in 2005; the NSA’s data collection facilities were widely covered in 2006.

          This list is the “greatest hits” – high profile reports that had governmental confirmation and lots of media coverage. Hackers, engineers, and the “alternative scene” have shared their knowledge of surveillance possibilities and probabilities for years before that. It might not have been in the general public’s consciousness, but it was certainly in programmer consciousness.

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            I think you overestimate how many programmers are woke Stallman-esque hackers. They’re greatly outnumbered by hackers who just want to do neat stuff, who in turn are greatly outnumbered by people who just code because it’s their job. I doubt the average PHP web dev of the early 2000s was any more knowledgeable about these possibilities and probabilities than the general public. I’m not confident most programmers at companies like Apple even knew or cared much about the subject. And even for those who suspected, possibilities are nothing compared to the staggering volume of hard evidence leaked by Snowden.

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              Indeed. I must say I was a bit surprised that Snowden’s revelations generated such chock. Perhaps it’s because as someone living outside the USA, I’ve known that the various TLAs have been hoovering up data since forever.

              Back in the day one could run M-x spook in Emacs to generate some “bad words” to trigger Echelon in your email or Usenet sig. Running it now shows the layers of history geeks have imagined the NSA will get hot and bothered by:

              Riot South Africa Reflection Jyllandsposten IACIS AHPCRC MI6 Red Cross Nike Cartel de Golfo Crash Arellano-Felix E. Coli Southwest afsatcom

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              This isn’t really related to mass surveillance though.

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                No, but the revelations about mass surveillance significantly undermined public trust in government intelligence agencies—as you pointed out in your other comment.

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            Reminds of the great Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz that I read as a kid. In one of these the CIA gives him a Gameboy-like console that conceals a geiger counter.

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              This was an immensely satisfying read

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                I worked in a DARPA-funded lab for a short while, and not one bit of this surprises me. In fact there were far more bizarre projects going on than a radiation-detecting iPod. Very few of them ever reached fruition but it was tremendously eductational!

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                  Having worked with some of the teams in the post, and having spent time in the iPod building, and knowing how Apple works, none of this surprises me. But it’s very cool nonetheless.