Phone/Internet Privacy and the NSA

All of you who take the time to read Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and other little niches of the Internet are, or at least should be aware of transpiring events regarding the “revelation” that the NSA has apparently been spying on average Americans via their phones and use of the Internet.  This is of course the “short attention span” version of what Greenwald has presented to all of you. Many like me have mixed and often conflicted feelings over this story. Honestly, I think there is actually much more to subject matter than anyone outside the NSA and the principal people involved are aware of. That being said, here’s my humble take on the matter.

The majority of people hearing of this story, including myself are quite enraged at the thought of our government invading our privacy over our phone calls and internet use. Many have expressed their outrage of their loss of privacy via their Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, Blogs along with all the private little things about themselves they give the public for free. People place so much of their privacy on Facebook for example I wonder why the need for the United States Intelligence Agencies to take the time and effort to “steal it”.

Now people will counter that what you voluntarily provide is your business, they are opposed to it being taken without our knowledge. They see it rightly as an invasion of our fourth amendment rights. They propose that with this information, jack-booted federal troops could break in to our homes without warrants and take us all in for interment in FEMA camps. I have actually read this on the Internet. What I also find amusing is that some on Twitter, who have angrily denounced this practice have been known to Dox others they don’t like. Doxing is the practice of gathering as much personal information of people into one place and presenting it in a way that not only violates people’s privacy, it’s designed to intimidate, harass and embarrass.

However, we all know that the internet has all kinds: good and bad, kind and malicious, helpful and demanding, sane and insane. But I digress.

The points listed above have to some degree or another relevance. However there is something about the whole NSA story that doesn’t quite get the play it should when it’s described to the public in mainstream media or the internet.

In reality, there isn’t any actually spying on citizens going on per se without benefit of a FISA Court warrant. The system being spoken of is actually a method to collect en masse, phone and internet records from the various companies mentioned in the story and creating a data bank of this information. The way this is supposed to work is that when information is obtained providing a suspect’s name based on some intelligence, they can go to the FISA Court and get permission to “data mine” the data collected from all those phone and internet records to gather additional information. So it’s not direct spying, more like indirect spying by proxy.

Now I don’t take comfort in this. If this data is stored indefinitely who’s to say someone somewhere with new authority granted them by law via the Congress and Executive Branch couldn’t “data mine” this source of data for other not so “national security” related business. The very real problem exists that people could find a way into this data storage facility to find reasons to harass, intimidate embarrass others for political reasons. Though the chances are small, they none-the-less do exist.

From my perspective however, the major issue not getting play here is that it’s not actually the government collecting this data. It’s a private corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton who is collecting and collating this data from Verizon, Google, etc and the United States goes to them to access the information.

In fact, nearly a third of all “top-secret” classifications are given to people outside the United States Government. You would think this would please Libertarians no end, the United States outsourcing their intelligence operations to private business. Keep in mind these business owe their allegiance to their boards and stock-holders, not the people of the United States. Further, because Booz Allen isn’t a government agency, there is no “Inspector General” someone like Snowden could have gone to in order to express there was something wrong and filing an anonymous complaint. In government agencies, the Inspector General has complete authority to investigate wrong doing and protect the “whistle blowers”. This doesn’t exist in the private sector. Our national security shouldn’t be outsourced to private industry trying to turn a profit. Indeed, neither should our privacy.

As for Snowden, much of the “bio” presented on him leaves me feeling it’s “manufactured”. Something doesn’t smell right about his motivation or his personal history as reported. What bothers me most is him going to China for protection. There are many other countries he could have gone to for asylum that practice far more control of invasion of privacy than the United States would do on her worse day. We’re nothing compared to China in this regard. China is the overreaching and powerful government the Libertarians complain we are becoming.

I’m awaiting more information to get out on this guy. If what he states on the record is completely factual and true, I do see him more as a traitor to our National Security than a Whistle Blower. However, I suspect he didn’t actually have the clearance he claims and only did this for notoriety. This is just my suspicion, I have nothing to back this up, but then again those who praise him as “a hero” really have nothing substantial yet to prove their opinions either.

For those of you shocked that our government, after implementation of the Patriot Act, would use resources to spy or at least monitor and have the ability to get information on suspected terrorists and criminals, all I can say is (as someone on Twitter pointed out) I have some bad news about Santa Claus too. The convenience of the information age really has made this inevitable. This is not to say I agree. I would like to see firewalls in place to protect our private information that is currently being gathered (without complaint or legal restriction) of all private business for whom people do business with. Your information is being gathered each time you use a credit card, do a Google or Bing search, get on the Internet, send an email, post a blog, complete a bank transaction, purchase a big-ticket item, book a vacation, the information is being gathered, stored and our government will find a way to access it. So from a realistic point of view, either enact laws to keep private businesses from gathering and storing this information or make sure the government representatives you elect into office to lead you, are not so predisposed to make nefarious use of this information.

If you’re going to say national security trumps privacy, then you are in no position to complain about these events because that is the rallying cry people who set this up use to justify its existence. If your privacy trumps everything else, then get more politically active. Better yet, get more politically aware and take a more pragmatic view of the world around us before mindlessly ranting about how good or bad it is and who is or isn’t a hero. The only thing that is certain and I’m sorry to say this, the government does know more about you than you do of it. And this is your fault by not staying politically active. Another reason to give the 2014 midterms more thought.