Given all the high profile coverage of security issues dominating the media recently, things got a bit testy at the big annual security conference hosted by RSA Security LLC this week in San Francisco. In fact, a number of previously planned attendees bailed out on the conference and hosted their own parallel event – called TrustyCon – after revelations that RSA had a multimillion dollar contract with the NSA. Still, the RSA pressed on with the event, culminating with a speech by comedian Stephen Colbert.
In it, Colbert seemed to come out in support of US surveillance tactics and took time out to take a shot or two at Russian guest Edward Snowden.
He asked if it was fair to boycott this conference when other major companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Verizon and Yahoo had all been linked to the NSA. He also joked that as a freedom lover, he doesn’t engage in boycotts. And that he had signed a contract so his conscience was clear, as long as his checked cleared.
While the RSA got a pass, Colbert didn’t go as easy on the NSA or Edward Snowden, whom he referred to as “practically a war criminal” for taking top secret U.S. intelligence to China and then to Russia.
“Was Mordor not accepting asylum requests?” he quipped.
“We can trust the NSA because without a doubt it is history’s most powerful, pervasive, sophisticated surveillance agency ever to be totally pwned by a 29-year-old with a thumb drive,” said Colbert.
I’m not sure what’s more disturbing here… the fact that the domestic community is so clearly fractured over questions of security and privacy during times of international unrest, or that Stephen Colbert is considered a keynote speaker where such matters are being debated. But in the end, I take some comfort in the fact that people are engaging in these debates and are able to do so without being whisked off to a dungeon someplace.
Exit questions: is RSA, as a commercial endeavor, somehow stained by having a ten year old contract with the NSA? It’s a private company designed to make a profit, and Uncle Sam is one of the biggest and most obvious customers in that market space. And if they do continue to work with the government, does that somehow preclude them from being a trustworthy source of private, commercial offerings? If you’re really concerned about how much of your mail the government is reading, every service provider and app designer in the world is probably going to wind up feeding the beast at some level, intentionally or not. Shouldn’t the real questions still be directed at the government entities doing the collecting, rather than the geeks who keep receiving love letters from the secret FISA courts?