Personally, I have never really considered the internet to be a truely secure or private medium. However, I would like to think that people still do have the right to demand as much privacy as they’d like to have and to be free to post and share things freely on the internet without everything being read. While I do understand that many governments do not necessarily have things like freedom of speech and privacy laws, it is the developed countries of the east and west that are responisble to enable those freedoms through the internet.
Recently, we’ve heard about Microsoft reading your Skype messages, and certain middle eastern carriers trying to listen in on your WhatsApp and Viber conversations. Now, we learn of something even more grave and vast of a violation of people’s rights and privacy.
We have now learned through numerous publications that the, NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily. This was then defended by some of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee by saying that it was called "Protecting America." The Verizon news was shortly followed by the revelation that three out of the four major carriers, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint are in fact offering such data. Then, following this vast violation of privacy and human rights, the real bomb was dropped by the Washington Post. The Washington Post detailed, using a series of NSA slides, the companies involved in the NSA program called PRISM. This PRISM program is used to assist the NSA and FBI in collecting communications and surveillence of what they claim to be foreign nationals. The slides themselves state that the reason for this is because the US is the backbone of most of the internet’s telecommunications and as a result, many foreign countries’ telecommunications get routed through the US. The companies mentioned are Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple.
Some of the forms of communication being collected by the NSA include email, video and voice chat, videos, phtoos, stored data (cloud?), VoIP, file transfers, video conferencing and online social networking details. While many do not remember the Patriot Act, which was almost unanimously enacted by the US Congress, it is what enables such surveillance to occur on a broad and questionably legal scale. While the legality of such programs is questionable, the truth is that the Patriot Act establishes the framework and ability for such questionable programs to not only exist, but more importantly get funded. In the case of the PRISM program, to the tune of $20 million a year.
While the amount of involvement that these companies have in this process of data gathering remains to be determined, it is clear from the NSA documentation that they have access to this information if they need to get to it. They don’t appear to detail how it is exactly obtained, but some sources are beginning to shine some light on how such a program would potentially work.
The problem with the existence of such programs, even if they claim to only exist to monitor foriegn communications, is tha they are installed in the United States and could easily be used by anyone to monitor Americans. With such secret monitoring programs, the line between monitoring a foreign national and an American citizen is more than fine, it’s almost invisible. Especially when you consider how loosely some of the ‘roving wiretaps‘, are applied and could easily be used to monitor an American citizen that has had communication with a target of an investigation.
The truth is that these kinds of programs are a grave risk to the freedom and safety of the entire internet. The PRISM program is easily one of many programs that exist within the dark confines of the US intelligence community and likely hide even more grave violations of our rights. While there is no proving that these programs are actually being used to monitor Americans, there is not doubt that such a step is not far away, nor difficult to do. The civil liberties that we as Americans have given up in the name of terrorism and security are bordering on ridiculous.
While we at BSN* do not enjoy getting ourselves involved in political discussions and discourse, we believe that we must inform our readers of their digital rights and how we can keep the internet a place for free and safe communication. Without the internet, many people today may not have the freedoms that they do. It is clear that the internet is changing the way that the world works and is hopefully giving people more freedom of expression and communication.