x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

How the US cracked privacy codes

The Arabic press is discussing the American spying scandal and its consequences for the world. Egypt tourism amid the crisis, and Libya after the revolution.

US spying scandal worsens as a new evidence shows it has cracked the world's privacy codes

Many nations are still struggling to set the controls on their respective patches of cyberspace and telecommunication networks after Edward Snowden, the American whistle-blower, leaked a trove of classified documents earlier this year, laying bare the United States' wide-ranging spying activities on its own citizens and individuals around the world, columnist Hassan Haidar wrote in the London-based newspaper Al Hayat yesterday.

Now new evidence has emerged that the US has also had access to what billions of internet users, including top government officials, exchange, read or store online, thanks to its ability to crack encryption codes that protect the privacy of data.

In an article titled Switch off your computers and throw away your mobile phones, the columnist wrote: "This means that any citizen anywhere around the world is completely undressed before the eyes of the American Big Brother, from their personal correspondence and bank transactions to their health records and even preferred reading."

According to reports last week in The New York Times and in the British newspaper, The Guardian, the US National Security Agency - in association with the British government - has built powerful computers to break encryptions protecting the data of individuals and organisations, with the knowledge and assistance of unspecified technology companies.

A few days ago, during her meeting with the US president at the G20 summit in Russia, Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil, confronted Barack Obama about Washington's interception of her communications. The Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was also reported as one of the high-profile victims of the US spying programme.

One wonders, if the private information pertaining to heads of states is accessible to the US, what about the average Joe?

"Make no mistake, if your desire for knowledge or natural nosiness ever tells you to go ahead and read an article about Al Qaeda, know that you stand a serious chance of becoming a person of interest, and you will be subjected to surveillance.

"We used to think that these things are the purview of Hollywood movies. Now we know that they are a real part of our daily lives. And, perhaps, more is yet to emerge over time, as Snowden continues to leak the documents in his possession."

Until when will this last? Is there anything to be done about this awful situation? Will world nations, one day, agree on a treaty that explicitly bans this encroachment on liberties that is done in the name of "fighting crime" and "counterterrorism"?

"And if that ever happens, who is to guarantee that intelligence services will comply, given that their work is secretive by nature, and their activities are monitored only by managers on the inside?"

Egypt's tourism begs for return to stability

Egyptian tourism, the main artery of the country's economy, has been thrown into disarray by the events that followed the revolution of January 25, 2011.

Now economists are warning that, if Egypt does not regain stability urgently, the sector will founder even deeper, further delaying the prospect of economic recovery, the Cairo-based daily Al Ahram said in an editorial yesterday.

Experts say that the Egyptian economy has lost nearly 5 billion Egyptian pounds (Dh 2.7 billion) last month alone, due to the poor performance of the tourism industry. Before the 2011 revolution, tourism pumped between Dh44bn and Dh55bn a year into the economy.

"One is saddened by the look of once-crowded, now-empty touristic attractions like the pyramids, Luxor, Aswan, Saint Catherine of Alexandria or the Egyptian Museum," the paper said. "For days on end, nobody goes there anymore, but for very few foreign tourists. Most luxury hotels or even average ones have no customers to cater for, which means huge losses that impact on the Egyptian economy and the Egyptian citizen."

Other figures put the gravity of the situation in perspective: tourism professionals say that about five million Egyptians had jobs in the tourism industry, putting food on the table for a further 20 million, the paper said in conclusion. What are all these people doing now?

After fanfare, Libya is left to its own demons

Two years ago, the Nato countries that helped liberate Libya from its long-time dictator, Col Muammar Qaddafi, brandished the slogans of "democracy", "stability" and "freedom" as they sent their warplanes over the North African country. Yet now they are keeping their distance as Libya slowly descends into a failed state, the UAE-based newspaper Al Khaleej said in its editorial yesterday.

"Libya will be turning into what can be described as a failed state if the security, economic and political collapse that it is currently witnessing is not remedied in time.

"This is not an overstatement, given the developments and events taking place today in Libyan territory,"the paper said, citing assassinations, bombings, storming of ministry buildings and squatting at tanker ports by armed militias.

"The hope was that Libya will move forward, from a captive nation trapped in the hands of a despotic regime to a free nation and a state of law," the newspaper noted. "But that never happened."

Libya has been left alone to fight its post-Qaddafi demons, when it needed much international support, the paper suggested, noting that all the good-natured slogans that were circulated by Nato forces two years ago had been merely for media consumption.


* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk