“If I’m in the government and charged with plugging holes or catching leaks over the long term, my attention is going to turn to watermarking,” says Jonathan Zittrain, founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and an Internet law professor there. “It wouldn’t take much effort within the government to personalize a document to identify its recipient,” so that this person could be identified if they later leaked that document.
Zuckerman adds that it’s also probably safe to say that the basic cryptography that’s widely used on the Internet–automatically deployed on banking websites and others via Web addresses that start with “https”–is also fairly secure. “It’s impossible to say whether [the National Security Agency] has broken them, but most people who aren’t unhealthily paranoid tend to believe that if [encryption] were badly broken … we’d see theft of credit-card information on a massive scale.”
While the outcome of Holder’s investigation is hard to predict, it’s a safe bet that the saga will result in an overhaul of how the government protects information. In addition to using watermarking, government agencies could adapt existing digital-rights-management technologies.
Such technologies can perform various tasks that might be relevant: generally, they can identify when the same computer is downloading voluminous amounts of material, restrict downloading to authorized users, and stop users from copying or passing restricted files to other computers. For example, a song purchased and downloaded onto one iPod in a protected format cannot easily and legally be transferred to other iPods.
“If you think about the technology of digital-rights management: How is it that the recording industry is able to hang on to the stuff in a way that the military can’t?” says John Pike, director of Global Security.org, the national security think tank. “It’s hard to understand.”