Here We Go Again: NSA Spying on Internet Data of Americans

June 8, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Coming at the heels of Wednesday’s news that the NSA was secretly obtaining hundreds of millions of phone records belonging to American citizens, we have new reports from the Washington Post of yet another Top Secret program targeting Internet data.  Operation code-name PRISM refers to a Top Secret partnership between the NSA and 9 of the top Internet firms in the United States including Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and Apple.  Since the news broke on Thursday officials from the companies involved have been coming forward with denials that they had any knowledge of the program or that the government has direct access to their servers, as alleged by the leaked information on PRISM.

Slides released by the Washington Post that outline the program detail the types of data collected which include email, photos, video, chat with voice and video, Voice of IP (VoIP), stored data, file transfers, social networking details, and “special requests”.  Essentially your entire online life is available to the government.  Anything you post to Facebook (regardless of your privacy settings), your emails, your Google Drive files, your photos, and any phone calls or “Hangouts” you are involved in over the Internet are possibly being collected by the government.

This is a far worse infringement on privacy than even the Verizon phone records because the information gathered here is much more specific and complete.  With the use of a simple “packet sniffer” the government can reconstruct any Internet voice or video communication that they collect, enabling them to play back the conversation like a recording.  As someone who works in telecommunications I have personally used this technique in troubleshooting VoIP communications.  It is extremely simple.

At this time, we do not even know how many citizens had their information collected.  PRISM is said to be targeted at foreign traffic crossing US networks but it has been admitted that the data of citizens is “incidentally” collected as well.  The NSA refuses to provide an estimate on just how much data belonging to citizens is collected.

President Obama and some members of Congress are defending the programs as important tools to fight terrorism.  They go on to condemn the leaked information on PRISM and the Verizon phone record program, stating the secrecy is essential to the effectiveness of the programs against terrorism.  President Obama stated in a speech given Friday that “every member of Congress has been briefed” and had knowledge of these programs.  I find this claim doubtful considering that many members of Congress have expressed surprise and outrage when this came to light.  It does seem that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were aware, but bound by oath to remain silent about the NSA’s actions.  After the programs were uncovered by the press, members of the committee have come forward to defend it.  Sen. Feinstain (D-CA) reacted by brazenly stating “it’s called protecting America”.  Republican Sen. Graham defended the Verizon program saying, “I’m a Verizon customer. I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government if the government is going to make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist phone with somebody in the United States. I don’t think you’re talking to the terrorists. I know you’re not. I know I’m not. So we don’t have anything to worry about.”  The logic being, if you have nothing to hide, you should not care.

President Obama at the opening of his remarks on the spying programs stated, “When I came into this office, I made two commitments that are more important than any commitment I made:  Number one, to keep the American people safe; and number two, to uphold the Constitution.”  Note that his first claimed priority is to “keep the American people safe”.  His second is to uphold the Constitution.  This is a subtle but very telling concession: that the President will put the government’s agenda before the liberties and freedoms of US citizens.  Security is used as the first excuse to government excesses.  The government is using drones on citizens – for our security.  The government is meddling in the affairs of other nations – for our security.  The government is trying to ban assault weapons – for our security.  The government is collecting our phone records and Internet data – for our security.  The government is spending obscene amounts of money on all kinds of bunk – for our security.  Security is used as the trump card for any activity that government cannot justify otherwise.

Every assault on individual freedoms is presented to us as being in our interest.  Even assaults that we are not supposed to know about (as is the case with PRISM and Verizon) is brushed off as being vital to our security.  Benjamin Franklin once said that those who would give up freedom for security shall find themselves with neither.  This is what we see today.  We are told by government that we cannot be safe unless we give up our rights.  That idea needs to be put to a swift and harsh end.  Government is inept at best, and insidious at worst.  I tend to believe that both are accurate descriptions.

What I find most alarming about this entire situation is not that the government is spying on us.  I have suspected that for a long time, so solid proof only vindicates my suspicions.  The most alarming thing about this is how un-alarmed most people seem to be.  Why aren’t there now millions of people descending on Washington DC?  Where is the outrage?  Where is the anger?  Why have the American people become sheep?  Why do we – a people who took up arms against the most powerful country on Earth because we were not represented over a 3% tax – now lay on our backs and take it?  How far have we fallen?

Fear not – Big Brother will make sure your football games and brain-melting sitcoms play uninterrupted.  You need only to sit down and shut up, like a good little lamb.

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