Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock lately, you know that recent revelations of the vast extent of government surveillance of the Internet and users have lit up a world wide firestorm. The brouhaha will doubtless continue, and further revelations are bound to come. Yet already it’s producing vastly more smoke than fire, a huge din but very little hard data.
People are concerned as to what information is being collected, who exactly is doing it, why is it being done, how it’s actually being used, and how it might be used in the future. Yet the only information forthcoming is from whistleblowers like Edward Snowden; all our government says is that it’s all very hush-hush and you simply have to trust them. But indications are that there is much more to come.
Official reassurances coming from the same bunch that just got caught wasting money on lame Star Trek parodies, and more seriously, possibly criminal State Department sex and drug scandals, not to mention using the tax agency to monitor tax protest groups, may not be particularly comforting. Add that James Clapper, the NSA head, apparently lied to Congress about their current activities, and maybe there is reason to worry. For the history of the government spying on Americans with such infamous programs like as COINTELPRO clearly show that these concerns are not baseless in any way.
So what do the feds know? Claims differ, and various programs with different capabilities are involved. The PRISM system is said to be concerned with metadata – not the content of communications, but the enclosed information in communications that describe it. It sounds innocent enough – after all, content is not being disclosed.
Yet it turns out metadata may be more important than content. It’s not just who you talk with, but when, and in what order. Putting all those tiny, scattered, individual pieces together could tell someone with access a great deal about a person, and what that person’s doing. With metadata alone, they can not only map where people are and who they’re talking to but deduce social and economic relationships, priorities, and plans. The more information available, the fuller a picture can be drawn, thus the temptation to suck down massive amounts of data becomes irresistible.
Of course, since the big providers are all eagerly doing their own data-mining, maybe all the NSA has to do is connect the dots. This may not take much. Consider what Google and Facebook know about you already – the links to your interests, locations, and friends – and you may already feel a little exposed…
So even if the spooks are only monitoring activity, and not the content of Internet communications, that is a tremendous amount of data. And they have tools to analyze it and make the connections, too: one called Boundless Informant shows how much from different countries. Your tax dollars allowed them to collect 97 billion pieces just last year and the NSA’s mammoth new data center in Utah to deal with it all.
The major companies named in the PRISM slideshow – Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Google, AOL and so on – have denied having any knowledge of the program. This does not mean that the NSA is doing it sneakily behind their backs, or that these companies are actually completely unaware. As the leaked secret court order demanding Verizon’s records demonstrates, they may be legally required to deny all knowledge.
Of course, nobody can predict how this will all turn out. What you, the user, can actually do to protect yourself from government snooping is limited. But one thing you can definitely can do is to use care when choosing the cloud and online backups. Protect your precious personal files by only using an online backup system like SWCP BUS that allows you to encrypt your data, rather than doing it for you.
There’s already 15 good reasons to use SWCP BUS. And it looks like our government’s given you another.