Protecting Your Information From The NSA
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Like millions of Americans, I was frustrated when The Guardian broke the story on June 6th that the NSA has a top secret program called Prism that collects personal data on American citizens from all of the most well known and trusted technology companies. This included tech giants such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft/Bing, Facebook, Youtube & Twitter.
What made this story especially heinous as it unfolded is that each of these companies is prevented by the actual FISA court orders they were served from disclosing to the public their information is being intercepted by the government. These trusted companies all have privacy policies and tell their users “we take privacy matters seriously”, yet we now find out millions of records are being secretly turned over to the NSA every single day. From the documents leaked to The Guardian by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the government literally has unfettered “back door access” to these vast databases.
Many of us rely on the internet for many things. We find information, solve problems, pursue our interests, read news, make purchase, and socially connect with like minded people around the world. Granting access to American spy agencies to this level of information on American citizens is the most egregious assault on our constitutional rights regarding illegal search and seizure in the history of our country. As one of the original authors of the Patriot Act recently put it, they never intended the law to be used to snarf up mass amounts of data on unsuspecting American citizens. I think most of us already knew this was going on to some extent, but clearly this has far exceeded the original boundaries set forth by Congress.
I don’t think companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook or Yahoo are inherently bad. They collect this data to provide a higher level of targeted advertising and services for their users. Unfortunately, because of minimal oversight, the government is bending the rules to secretly obtain their data. Not surprisingly, we now have additional whistleblowers coming forward and making the allegation that this data is being used to blackmail members of congress, judges, supreme court justices and officials. Whether this will bear out and continue to be true given the test of time we don’t know, but it is very troubling after the recent revelations about the IRS admitting to targeting specific groups because of their political affiliations. These are scandals that touch us all, democrats, republicans and libertarians alike.
I think it’s time we expected more from the internet companies who are earning vast sums of money from the American public. We need good solid honest companies to step forward, and make a commitment to protect your data, and when they do, we should support them. If this means a company needs to agree to not collect sensitive data to keep your information safe, they should change their practices. If they don’t, the good part about a free market economy is that you “the consumer” are in complete control, and have the ability to “fire them”. It will take time for companies to emerge to provide private and secure services for internet search, instant messaging and email, but they will, and I’m sure in time some of the more well known ones will “see the light” and change their practices, also. After all, our economy is built on supply and demand. In light of all that has happened over the last 60 days, it’s time to send a clear message that your privacy is important, and that you will only support those who look after your best interests.
Recently, a new search engine was launched called Zeekly (zeekly.com). Zeekly pulls search results from all of the major search engines, but doesn’t store your personal information. (in the interest of full disclosure, I am directly involved with Zeekly). I started using Zeekly this week , and for the first time since June 6th, I once again feel safe searching the web. I hope that you will support sites like Zeekly so they can continue to grow and move forward and offer additional products and services.
We all need to be diligent and get a little smarter about the internet. As I continue to learn more, I will pass this along to you in the form of additional articles on this site in the future. There are other technologies available such as VPN’s (virtual private networks) and SSL encryption, to name a few. Each of these important technologies are worthy of our attention as we are truly now in the age of “big brother”.