Why Internet Monitoring Laws Will Make Criminals Harder to Catch [Opinion]

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feat cctv   Why Internet Monitoring Laws Will Make Criminals Harder to Catch [Opinion]While the ITU is busy behind closed doors trying to take away Internet freedoms on a global scale, the UK government brazenly announced plans to give wide-reaching Internet monitoring powers to various British agencies as well as increasing the amount of retention time of data ISPs must store.

Although the so-called “web snooping” plans have been met with widespread criticism and the Prime Minister has announced they would need to be adjusted, the UK government is insistent that some form of monitoring powers will be enacted, as they are “increasingly neccssary to tackle extremists, paedophiles and fraudsters”.

The Proposals

As it stands, the proposals for those Internet monitoring laws are as follows:

  • ISPs must keep records for 1 year of all data transmissions including time, duration, originating device, and recipient.
  • ISPs must record browsing history, emails, VOIP calls, gaming activity and social media messages.
  • Police would not need permission to access basic details of this data, but they would need a warrant in order to get at the actual content of the message or data in question.

Bear in mind these are due to be rewritten somewhat, but the core principles will stay; and while this may be UK-specific, you can be certain the US government is planning something similar.

So, What’s The Problem?

I’m not even going to touch upon the obvious invasion of privacy that these new laws represent. We all know that any form of stored data can and will be hacked, but there are others are out there to fight that particular battle.

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Let me then preface this by saying that I’m certainly not a “privacy nut”. I don’t think you should break the Internet by blocking advertising cookies, and I’m actually in favour of making ID cards mandatory for everyone in the UK. But these web snooping laws pose a clear danger to society, and here’s why – they will have the opposite of the intended effect.

id cards   Why Internet Monitoring Laws Will Make Criminals Harder to Catch [Opinion]

I posit that by giving law enforcement agencies broad reaching powers to examine web records, the criminals will get smarter; it will be harder to catch them, not easier. At the moment, police already have the power to subpoena information on criminals if they can justify it to a court; and they do. And right now, I suspect that not all criminals are smart enough to hide their tracks properly, to use secure protocols and encrypt data transmissions.

But anyone who reads this blog will know about such simple technologies like VPNs, which encrypt traffic and prevent even your ISP from having the slightest clue what you’re doing online – so keeping a year’s worth of ISP records would be worthless. I know, because I use one myself. If the government had the power to snoop on any of our web traffic, it’s reasonable to assume that the usage of such services would skyrocket. It would suddenly become a necessity rather than a luxury for using the Internet at all, and this applies to criminals as well as the public.

Not just VPNs either, but all manner of existing encrypted protocols and secure transmission methods would become public knowledge out of sheer necessity. If you know for sure that someone is staring through your windows, you buy curtains.

The Evolution Of Protocols & Software

Not only would everyone use existing technologies and services to further enhance their privacy, the Internet itself would evolve to support even greater levels of privacy than currently possible – for both you and I – as well as the paedeophiles, the terrorists, and the scammers.

There is a precedence for this form of protocol and software evolution. Remember Napster? It was a pretty slow and laborious way of sharing songs with a few friends; the music industry was quick to shut it down, and piracy was once more erased from existence. The problem of copyright infringement was solved!

napster   Why Internet Monitoring Laws Will Make Criminals Harder to Catch [Opinion]

Please forgive my droll British sarcasm, because as we all know, the problem was not solved. Far from it – piracy got worse. New software was developed which not only shared music, but movies too. Then they shut that down. The Internet evolved again, moving beyond simple one-to-one file sharing to developing the distributed download torrent protocol. It was now faster and easier than ever to share an entire collection of GBs of files with anyone – potentially millions of people at the same time.

So now they set to work on shutting down the sites that “host” these torrent files; and look what that did! The sites gained exposure – the PirateBay’s traffic actually went up – and the torrent protocol evolved again to no longer require hosting sites or trackers. Time and time again, it has been proven that tackling piracy only made the problem worse.

I think the exact same process will happen when these laws come into play. The Internet will evolve – again. New protocols and easy to use encryption services – virtualy uncrackable – and the widespread proliferation of VPNs that securely hide your traffic and keep no records – will become the norm. Will VPNs become illegal too?

As a technology writer, I’m at the forefront of technology – I’ll make sure that myself, my family and my readers are well versed in securing their online activities. We don’t have anything to worry about. But I believe the police do actually have enough powers to catch online criminals already. Moreover, I’m afraid that by enacting these catastrophic Internet monitoring laws, the UK government will forever make Britain less safe and online criminals harder to catch. We won’t know about the next homegrown terror plot to blow up London, because they’ll be using a VPN.

Do you agree or disagree?  Let us know your views on the subject in the comments below.

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45 Comments - Write a Comment

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Colin M

Spot on article. Absolutely agree.

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Richard Basham

The Internet MUST be kept open, and private.
Many countries in the world are controlling what people want to see.
And those countries use suppression as their method of keeping people in the dark.
The Internet is how people in the Middle East are helping to bring more freedoms.
This must continue, and only can continue if the rest of us fight for others rights to freedom. And in doing so we are fighting for our own freedoms and privacy.

dragonmouth

“The Internet MUST be kept open, and private.”
Yes, the Internet must be kept open and free from government interference. However, because of the nature of the medium it will never be private unless YOU take precautions(VPN, encryption). If you want privacy then communicate face to face in private.

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Junil Maharjan

there will always be ways to bypass securities, and there will always be people who will do that no matter how. this evolution will keep on evolving.

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Justin

Very true… I use a VPN with 256 bit AES encryption… any serious criminal would be doing the same. This bill is only spying on the average law abiding British citizen.
It makes me hate my own government! The internet is everyones and it is free!
They do not own us, they work for us.

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carissa

There is nothing private about the internet. Its not the criminals I worry about so much nemore. VPN or not “They” know what your doing at all times. Our phone companies are more than willing to give out any an all information to the police; down to your username and password. Not only that their taking snapshots of users. Obtaining search warrants and busting down doors based on assumptions. Then scanning in to our online files based on what? Officer Dewy’s inaccurate report of Felony assumptions; hence the case being tossed out.
Yea for you, or is it. That complaint stays with you n any other case files scanned in for life. Pretty tough to get a job now that you proved your innocent of Off. Dewy’s Felony assumption charges.

Muo TechGuy

Actually, none of that would happen when using a VPN. “They” are not able to trace activities that are encrypted, end of story. That’s kind of the point I’m making; pretty soon we will all be forced to use one just out of necessity, not as a luxury.

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Dave

I’ve been saying this for a long time. Echoes my sentiments exactly. The criminals that get caught will not be very tech-savvy and probably not the brightest bulbs in the box either and it follows that they are probably not much danger. The real out-and-out terrorists and dangerous folk (as the article suggests) will encrypt, use a VPN or whatever needs to be done to cover their tracks, thereby making it even more difficult for them to be caught. It’s all so obvious. Are they going to communicate in plain sight? I think not. The government (especially the lovely Theresa) are living in cloud-cuckoo land. It’s all total rubbish and it’s just an excuse for spying on the great British public. I wrote to my MP, urging him to resist this act and got back a load of “copy and paste” waffle about how we must balance public safety and privacy but “thank you for your views”. I cannot contain my disgust and contempt for this bill. A total invasion of privacy, not to mention the creation of a great fat juicy database that hackers are probably even now rubbing their hands with glee in anticipation of getting their hands on, which, given the government’s previous security record, will probably be quite easy. I despair!

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Anon

This post will probably be deleted like my other, but I’ll try again. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1 The NSA is building a massive data center, set to be completed in 2013. They will be able to analyze the electronic data of all Americans for about the next hundred years. They will also very likely be able to break AES 256 bit encryption soon. The one good thing that will come of this is that it will lead to the development of better encryption technologies. There is at least one type of encryption that has been proven mathematically impossible to crack: the One Time Pad, but since it requires true randomness, it cannot be done using computers. This article was published today and it details further attempts by the Obama administration to extend their spying on innocent Americans: http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/spy-state-tightens-its-grip

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Anonymous

I understood you every bit man and I agree. Dont try yo fix something that is not broken. Leave the internet alone.

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Nevzat Akkaya

just like a cat-mouse game :)

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Mark W

There was a guy earlier this year who was brought up and convicted on some terrorism charge or other, who’d been dumb enough to hide his nefarious activities behind a self invented “encryption” system – actually a letter substitution code run in Excel using about six numbers. It would have taken the local primary school class about half their lunch break to crack, I imagine. By the time UK.gov have poked their mitts into our privacy, I doubt even the dumbest jihadi wannabe will be under any illusions about the need for proper encryption, or how to make it work properly, in fact I doubt there’ll be many in the UK who don’t routinely use VPNs and or trucrypt before long. As some wise person said (Bruce Schneier I suspect): “If you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, why make the haystack bigger”.

Unless the government are prepared to block port 443 and commit economic suicide, there won’t be much they can do about the exponentially larger haystack they’re going to be facing a few years down the track. The new law is nothing but an ill aimed shot in the foot – as you point out, the law more than has this covered already. Which makes you wonder who is really lobbying hard for it. The security services were already complaining a a couple of years ago that the war on music piracy would make their job harder by encouraging VPNs/ encryption, so you have to wonder if the hardware manufacturers are standing quietly at the PMs side, talking up some business.

No, the only way the new laws could work is if they contained extra measures that would make even China blush, and turn the UK into a functioning police state rather than the merely cosmetic one it is at the moment.

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Richard

just give me one good reason- why ALL websites are spying on us and request to identify ourselvs before posting anything.

Tina Sieber

Richard,

Most websites don’t ask for your personal information to spy on you.

MakeUseOf for example is asking for information like a name and an email address to stay in touch with readers. We don’t care where you live or what you do for a living or what your browsing habits are. We don’t have the intend, let go the capacity to collect massive amount of user data, verify identities and do anything with that information.

We do want to connect with our readers, engage with them in a conversation, learn from them, and along the way make sure we are offering the best possible service. One of our tools to do this is notifications. For example when someone responds to your comment, you receive an email notification to let you know about it.

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Richard

why do you need my ID before I post comment ?

Tina Sieber

We don’t literally need your ID, Richard.

It’s good to be able to put a name to a comment and we would like to notify you of responses to your comment, like this one. You can still stay anonymous by using a fake name or fake social media login.

Obviously you can use a fake email address, too and never be bothered by us at all. You would be missing out, though because we’re a really nice bunch!

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Richard

“I’m actually in favour of making ID cards mandatory fo everyone in the UK.”- your words. Hitler and Stalin created them and made them mandatory- for lack of it was death sentence. Why do you think we need them? Date of expiry make matter worse- it gives gov legal rights to remove your citizenship from you- this is exactly what happened to me in Poland- ALL gov offices rejected me as polish citizen on the base of technicality- since I could not show my non expired ID card I was treated as alien- in my own country- to make it more fun- they planted it in constitution- this move is unbeatable- they treat you like subhuman in your own county- good luck- for wishing ID is mandatory- great tool for gov to kill opposition. Just do like Hitler did… good luck

James Bruce

The reasons I think ID cards should mandatory would cover far more pages than I am prepared to write here, Richard, and I don’t think comparing my views to Nazism is a particularly good tactic if you actually expect a response.

dragonmouth

Please do not dismiss Richard’s comments just because he used the word “Nazi”. His concerns are very valid. While a mandatory ID card can and will have many benefits, it will be quickly turned into a control device.

Here is what WILL (not may) happen – You want to go on vacation. You first must go to your local constabulary station, present your National ID and provide the authorities with all the particulars of your trip (when, where, how, how long, with whom, itinerary). You may or may not be allowed to take the trip. (The resort is crowded, they don’t like your face, whatever). If you are allowed to travel, when you get to your destination, the very first thing you MUST do is to report to the local constabulary to show that you have arrived without deviating from your planned itinerary. Only then will you be allowed to check into your hotel. If, while on vacation, you take any side trips to other towns, you will have to report your arrival and departure to the authorities in each town. When coming home from vacation, the procedure will be reversed. You sign out at the resort town and sign in with authorities in your home town. Failure to report any of your movements is a criminal act, punishable to the full extent of the law. Failure to provide your National ID on request to any government official is a criminal act, punishable to the full extent of the law.

While the above scenario is not probable in the UK at the present time, it WAS the law of the land in Communist countries. It probably still is in North Korea.

Actually, a card is not needed. Each inhabitant will be implanted with an RFID chip. Then each person can be tracked like a FedEx package. Maybe you should reconsider all those reasons you think ID cards should mandatory.

Muo TechGuy

An RFID chip sounds like a much more effective solution, I agree.

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Taha Sk

Why can’t I +1 it?

Its a good read I wanted to share…. share easily

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Shelly Olmstead

I completely agree with this. Granted, the government (I know the US government at least, so I assume the UK government does, as well) hire hackers that they arrest to professionally hack into systems for them in order for techs to fix weaknesses in their systems so they can’t be hacked into, or harder to hack into, and I would think they use the same people to do their dirty work for them, so I would think that the criminals, particularly the less tech-savvy ones, have their own hackers and tech people working for them, as well, to build software and programs and apps and such to make it harder for them to be found out. I mean, isn’t that basically how peer sharing went from the baby days of Napster to the current torrent sharing programs? The more they try to prevent people from doing things they aren’t “supposed” to be doing, the more people are going to make apps and programs and such to do those things in a new way that can’t be tracked, or at least harder to track. And as far as the UK, and particularly the US (since I live in the US, I know more of what they’re developing than the UK), governments basically tracking and snooping into every citizen’s internet usage, if they proceed as planned, they’re just getting that much closer to what the Chinese government does with their internet, and blocks usage like crazy and tracks everyone’s every little online move. This makes me think of that list of tracked words and phrases that was released not too long ago here in the US, where a program filters through all the internet traffic in the US and whenever a certain word, or phrase, or grouping of words, is used on the internet, it gets flagged and if one person uses the words/phrases on that list enough and flagged enough times, they get tracked…at least that was MY understanding of it. Granted, it’s done by a machine, but I think that if someone gets flagged enough to get tracked, that tracking is then done by people. I have a spotty memory, so it’s possible that I might be remembering this somewhat wrong, or I’m combing various memories into one. But I’m sure there’s at least one person who reads this article that knows what I’m talking about. ANYWAY…I know that here in the US we’re well on our way to becoming the thought police, and I think we’re nearly there if someone doesn’t put a stop to it really soon.

And just a random thought-I remember when I went to college in 1998 I had friends that were using Napster and burning music albums onto CDs. Back then, it was nearly impossible to find blank CDs, and there wasn’t one side that was a “writing” side,they both looked like the side that gets burned, and they were quite expensive to buy compared to how much the same exact type of blank CDs cost now. What I remember the most is that I had a friend burn me a Weezer CD for me haha! I didn’t have my own computer at the time (in fact, my family didn’t get a computer until…late 2000, I think, I remember having it in February 2001 because I’d broken my leg then and was on the computer A LOT while healing from the emergency surgery I had on it less than 24 hours after breaking it because of how strange the break was, but only after the initial 3-4 week healing period from the surgery. And we didn’t even buy it new, it was a used computer that we bought from my dad’s coworker who’d bought a new computer. A couple years later we switched it out for my brother’s eMachine “computer”, which was actually a computer-like word processor, which was THE WORST “computer” I’d EVER used. But I digress). but I used my friends’ computers quite often while in college (my second roommate had an IBM laptop…in early 1999…and it was SO HEAVY! And bulky! I think it was 3″ thick, and the software was horrible compared to my other friends’ desktop PCs, so I only used her laptop once because I thought it was horrible) and I used Napster and burned CDs often, though not too often because back then it would take days to download just one album and if too many were downloading at once…though “too much” then was nothing compared to “too much” now…it slowed the computer down considerably. My friends were generous enough to let me use their blank CDs to burn, despite their cost and how limited they were sold, because even though I burned a handful of CDs, I didn’t burn nearly enough to warrant purchase an entire package of disks, which, back then, were only sold in large spindles of, like, 100 disks (or maybe just where I live. I never went out and tried to buy them myself until a few years later, and by that time, the actual disks changed considerably, they became MUCH easier to find, and they dropped considerably in price and came in numerous different counts packages.). But at any rate…I had to share that since the baby days of Napster was mentioned. I was a huge Metallica fan up until they came out against Napster and ruined it for us.

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altgenesis

Those VPN’s are run by the CIA. The good ones that don’t slow down your Internet browsing are probably run by the CIA.

They gotcha.

Anonymous

altgenesis,

I am amazed at how cynical you are. I can not believe that you would think a fast VPN like https://vpnme.com would be run by the CIA when they offer bitcoin and cash as two anonymous payment methods.

They even offer NAT and TOR modes to further protect you.

I do however agree with Bobby above and would not use a VPN based out of a country with manditory data retention requirements.

Laird.

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Tferree Ferree

When will authorities and the public finally admit that you cannot stop criminal behavior-you can only punish? Spanking a child for bad behavior doesn’t teach them good behavior. It just teaches them they better figure out how to not get caught. This idea isn’t even spanking the criminals, it’s spanking everyone. Criminals will be criminals will be criminals. But addressing the real problem(s) would make too much sense.

Robert Ward

They will never admit that, mainly because they know already, all part of the plan for total control of our lives, those of use they wish to keep anyway!

Muo TechGuy

There’s no conspiracy theory here; just stupid and clueless lawmakers.

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Achraf Almouloudi

I completely agree with James as the Internet is made to be an open space and even the government won’t be able to stop that. Do they know how much worth of traffic is exchanged through the Internet per year ? even if the ISPs buy all the world’s hard drives they won’t be able to store what data was exchanged in 2012 or any future year, and the problem is that MOST of that data is useless, because although we use Facebook, Twitter, Google, Ebay … we use them in HTTPS and that makes it IMPOSSIBLE for them to know what we’re doing there. I think governments should let the Internet alone and sit to solve more important problems like education and poverty.

Anon

Don’t worry Achraf, the NSA is working on that and in a few years at most, will be able to crack what is now our best encryption.

Achraf Almouloudi

No, unless processor chip makers develop very powerful units this would not be possible, the chips should become able to do trillions of trillions of tries in a short amount of time to achieve that.

dragonmouth

“No, unless processor chip makers develop very powerful units this would not be possible”
Did you ever hear of Super Computers such as Cray, Deep Blue, Blue Fire that can do PETAflops of transactions? Have you ever heard of computer clusters such as IBM Sequoia that also run at PetaFlop speeds? I guess these computers qualify as doing “trillions and trillions of tries in a very short amount of time”

Those are only the known computers. What kind of computers NSA is anybody’s guess but I’m sure they ARE NOT i486 based.

Muo TechGuy

Lol. NSA uses a room of 486SX’s ;)

Achraf Almouloudi

I said chips, not supercomputers. I know there are Computer Clusters and Supercomputers capable of doing so much computing, but their cost of building is unbelievably high so naturally they couldn’t make hundreds of thousands of them to decrypt all the encrypted data on the Internet. I hope you have an idea of what it takes (in computer processing power terms) to decrypt just a single HTTPS request, multiply that per every bit of data that’s encrypted on the Internet and you know how bad that idea is.

If they have so much money to spend on so much supercomputers and decryption machines development, they did better spend them on creating jobs for every Human living on the planet. I’m sure that much money can end joblessness and poverty.

dragonmouth

“Do they know how much worth of traffic is exchanged through the Internet per year ? ”
Not only do they know, NSA already records ALL of electro-magnetic transmissions in the US and anywhere else they can.

“we use them in HTTPS and that makes it IMPOSSIBLE for them to know what we’re doing there”
I guess you are living proof of the adage that “Ignorance is bliss”

Muo TechGuy

Impossible; there’s not enough hard drives in the world to store that much data.

dragonmouth

Not only possible but it is already in place and active. Google NarusInsight.

Achraf Almouloudi

As “Muo TechGuy” said, there is not enough hard drives in the world to store that much data, and even if there is, it would be the stupidest thing NSA would have ever done, because 99% of what they would’ve captured would be just annoying and useless content, you know what I mean.

dragonmouth

MUO TechGuy is not the alpha and omega of computer knowledge. His opinions are just that, opinions, not facts. And they are only his.

“it would be the stupidest thing NSA would have ever done”
Maybe yes, maybe no. Governments and government agencies often do stupid things. Since NSA is an intelligence agency, information is intelligence. So NSA is gathering intelligence.

“because 99% of what they would’ve captured would be just annoying and useless content, you know what I mean.”
No, I don’t know what you mean. To YOU it may be 99% useless, to somebody else like the NSA, it may be 99% useful. BTW – where do you get the “99% useless” number? Did somebody do a survey, or are you just throwing numbers around?

For the sake of the argument, let’s assume you are right and only 1% of the information is useful. How do you propose to recognize that 1% and then capture it? Will the information have a “This is a terrorist plan” label on it? Or will it say “NSA please copy me”?

To give you a comparison, the SETI Project (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is listening for alien signals on 9 BILLION different frequencies at the same time. SInce they do not know ahead of time on which particular frequency an intelligent signal will come in, they have to record the data from ALL 9 billion frequencies. NSA is doing the same thing. Since they do not know what form a terrorist message will take or at what time it will be heard, they have to record everything for analysis later.

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benn dennison

hit the nail right on the head

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dragonmouth

U.K. is becoming a police state to rival North Korea, East Germany and other dictatorships. Before you get your undies in a knot about my statement, to be fair, the rest of the Western “democracies” are following suit.

James, you are taking a one-sided view of the problem. Yes, technology and encryption will improve, but do you think that the lawmakers will sit on their hands in the meantime? As soon as it is evident that the laws are not having the desired effect, those laws will be made more restrictive. At some point VPNs and encryption will be outlawed. Only official government agencies will be allowed to use them.

In the United States NSA, CIA, FBI and all law enforcement entities are constantly clamoring and lobbying for ANY encryption scheme that is being developed to contain built-in backdoors so that they can easily access the encrypted information. IIRC, the developer of PGP refused to include a back door or give the authorities a key. He was taken to court by the government. Luckily for our privacy the judges kept ruling that the government did not provide compelling enough reasons to be granted its request (demand). In spite of the setbacks, the government keeps trying. How much longer it will take before they find a friendly court to grant them access, is anybody’s guess.

Muo TechGuy

Well, I hope we get more CCTV, too.

dragonmouth

Don’t worry, you will. CCTV will become ubiquitous. An inmate in a maximum security prison will have more freedom and privacy than the “free” citizens.

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dragonmouth

Achraf,
What do you know of computers, besides the desktop or laptop in your room?

“I said chips, not supercomputers.”
I know what you said. However, for serious data manipulation, one does not use “chips”, one uses super computers or computer clusters.

“Computer Clusters and Supercomputers….their cost of building is unbelievably high”
Right now there are older Cray super computers for sale on eBay starting at $10,000. A computer cluster of 256 nodes can be built from recycled PCs for about the same $10,000. However, governments and governmental agencies use the latest and the greatest available. Top of the line commercially available super computers run between $100 million and $250 million. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of them located at universities, research centers, national weather bureaus and oil companies.

“I hope you have an idea of what it takes (in computer processing power terms) to decrypt just a single HTTPS request”
Do you? It does not take very much. Otherwise there would be no constant break ins into all kinds of computer networks, from a home LAN to the Pentagon. There would be no identity theft. Any hacker with a decent laptop and a packet sniffer can break into most networks.

“If they have so much money to spend on so much supercomputers and decryption machines development”
To national governments national security is worth all the money they spend on it.

“they did better spend them on creating jobs for every Human living on the planet”
Why would/should Arab countries spend any money on providing jobs for the Israelis and vice versa?
Why would/should India spend any money on creating jobs for Pakistan and vice versa?
etc., etc. etc.
In a perfect world there would be no need for national defense, national boundaries, nations or religions. We would all live in an utopian world. However, humans are not perfect. No amount of money will change that.

“I’m sure that much money can end joblessness and poverty.”
We can all live happily ever after in a world-wide welfare state.

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