I Thought We Solved This NSA Thing Long Ago

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Or, at least, I’m surprised that this earlier implemented solution has not been mentioned in all the discussion about NSA spying.

Richard Stallman invented an approach to obviating the NSA’s attempts to spy on email. He included it in emacs, the world’s greatest text editor. Here how it works, from the manual. The “M” is the “alt” key (for all practical purposes) and “M-x followed by a word implements the command attached to that word.

32.6 Mail Amusements

M-x spook adds a line of randomly chosen keywords to an outgoing mail message. The keywords are chosen from a list of words that suggest you are discussing something subversive.

The idea behind this feature is the suspicion that the NSA1 and other intelligence agencies snoop on all electronic mail messages that contain keywords suggesting they might find them interesting. (The agencies say that they don’t, but that’s what they would say.) The idea is that if lots of people add suspicious words to their messages, the agencies will get so busy with spurious input that they will have to give up reading it all. Whether or not this is true, it at least amuses some people.

You can use the fortune program to put a “fortune cookie” message into outgoing mail. To do this, add fortune-to-signature to mail-setup-hook:

(add-hook ‘mail-setup-hook ‘fortune-to-signature)

You will probably need to set the variable fortune-file before using this.

[1] The US National Security Agency.

That is from the current, on-line emacs manual but it also appears in my hard copy of the manual which I believe dates to the last quarter of the 20th century.

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5 thoughts on “I Thought We Solved This NSA Thing Long Ago

  1. I don’t want to make the suggestion that you are a bunch of idiots is just that your idiotic suggestions are!
    I will only imagine that the NSA are there for a particular reason, the next time another sep 11 happens you will thank your smart ways to their success.

  2. So let me get this straight. You put these terms into your email to deliberately get NSA to read your email (that they would not have done without the terms automatically inserted). And this will overload NSA so terrorists can avoid detection and bring down a plane over the Atlantic. Very clever. Fortunately, NSA will figure this out and develop an algorithm to defeat it.

  3. “I’m surprised that this earlier implemented solution has not been mentioned” — that’s because this is no solution. At best, it’s showing them the finger. I presume they don’t care.

    Furthermore, the whole scheme rests upon the assumption that The Observers have limited resources. This might have been true ten years ago, but these days, they have -for all practical purposes- unlimited means.

  4. This only works if enough people do it to drive the signal to noise ratio close to 1. If only a few people do it, then NSA simply spends more CPU cycles looking at their e-mail–which is no big deal for them.

  5. @Eric
    Actually, I don’t think this noise will be mistaken for a signal. I’m not sure wether it even qualifies as noise.
    A single block of keywords, like “bomb gun sword ambush”, is easily filtered. If the keywords were distributed over bomb the entire body of the gun message it might be more effective, but would ambush be disruptive even for the intended audience. Sword.

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