email privacy

NSA – The Ever Expanding American Privacy Nightmare

We’ve had  irrefutable proof  for a while now that the NSA collects and stores all of Verizon’s telephone call records. We now know, thanks to documents recently  declassified by President Obama that the government snooping extends to tens of thousands of emails and other online communications, dating all the way back to 2008, and against the will of the secret court that oversees the NSA’s data collection program. We know that they have built a network which monitors and records up to  75 percent of all web traffic. There are two things, though, that we don’t really know. We don’t know to what ends exactly the NSA is using all of the data it stores on us, though we can be pretty confident it isn’t to target ads at us, a la Google. We also don’t know exactly how much  Internet privacy  they intend to infringe upon and revoke from us for whatever exactly those (presumably nefarious, they are overseen by a secret court after all) ends are.

I’ve been doing some digging trying to get a better idea of where my data goes and what it does once it arrives there, I like to know the status of my online privacy, and most of what I find is more disturbing ways that they’re collecting data from me. The agencies are grabbing data from the servers of nine U.S. Internet companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple, according to documents. It’s worth noting here that Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all responded that they don’t give this sort of information to the government, or that they don’t know what’s going on. I suspect this has something to do with the very technical procedure of FISA applications, but that’s mostly conjecture on my part. Amidst all this uncertainty lies my opinion that you can’t really trust any of the major internet channels with your especially sensitive personal information, because willingly or not they’re being pressured to hand their data over. What isn’t conjecture is the fact that my email privacy is now more or less nonexistent, considering all three of the webmail providers I use or have used have made this list.

A lot of people, myself included, are concerned about how the government  is actually using  this information, and we’re brought a bit of comfort finding out that the formal procedures say they can’t. The NSA can collect data, and keep it in storage at will. They can not, however, look at any of these records unless they can prove that a specific phone number is connected to terrorism or spies. They have to jump through several hoops to use the data, including:

*Getting Attorney General certification to view specific records

*Submitting an application to a FISA court

*Providing all requested information to said FISA court, an organization that can deny access to these records and command the NSA to stop viewing them at any time

The government is probably collecting millions of records per month, and it is  very difficult and expensive to review individual records. Obviously they could break the law and look at the records, but I can’t imagine one would want to risk their career and their department’s funding unless they had some reason to suspect they’d find some link to terrorist or spy activity. And if they had a link, they would probably succeed using the formal procedures. Then again though, the NSA did  broadly misrepresent  the scope of their data collection to these same FISA courts already. These mentioned consumer protections do what they can to comfort us, but I personally still have a hard time trusting the agency that mines all of my data, especially when it comes to affording me any Internet privacy at all.

The government is probably collecting millions of records per month, and it is  very difficult and expensive to review individual records. Obviously they could break the law and look at the records, but I can’t imagine one would want to risk their career and their department’s funding unless they had some reason to suspect they’d find some link to terrorist or spy activity. And if they had a link, they would probably succeed using the formal procedures. Then again though, the NSA did  broadly misrepresent  the scope of their data collection to these same FISA courts already. These mentioned consumer protections do what they can to comfort us, but I personally still have a hard time trusting the agency that mines all of my data, especially when it comes to affording me any Internet privacy at all.

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