In an attempt to track down terrorist activity and protect the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency is collecting hundreds of millions of personal electronic accounts.
Although, the collection takes place overseas, according to senior intelligence officials, many of the personal emails and instant messaging accounts belong to Americans. And, when asked to give an estimation of how many, they declined, but did not dispute the number being in the millions. Really?
President Obama said the National Security Agency’s email collecting program “does not apply to U.S. citizens and people living in the United States.” (The Washington Post) If their search has nothing to do with Americans, than why collect so many American accounts?
Diligence to catch all of the terrorists and anyone associated with terrorist activity is understandable, however, there is just something unpatriotic about the whole thing. Someone is not being completely truthful, as if there is some underlining purpose behind it. But then, again, it may just be the government’s way of maintaining some sort of control.
According to the Washington Post, the collection program, can intercept email address books and “buddy lists” from instant messaging services, including social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Of course with the social sites, that also would include “friends’ lists” or “following people.” It does all of this as it moves across global data links. Every time a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers, online services often transmit those contacts.
Intelligence officials said the whole idea is to gather a large amount of contact lists, rather than individual users. This equates to a fair percentage of the world’s email and instant messaging accounts. This data can be analyzed and used to locate hidden connections and map relationships within a smaller group of foreign intelligence targets.
According to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation show, on a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers.
Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million per year. Each day, the NSA collects contacts from an estimated 500,000 buddy lists on live-chat services as well as from the “in-box” displays of Web-based e-mail accounts. The collection depends on secret arrangements with foreign telecommunications companies or allied intelligence services in control of facilities that direct traffic along the Internet’s main data routes.
So, how does the average American feel about the government’s constant watch? A local Dallas woman said she doesn’t trust what the Administration is telling Americans.
“Toll records, phone records like this, that don’t include any content, are not covered by the fourth amendment because people don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in who they called, and when they called. I’m having trouble processing this rationale. If it’s OK for the US government to collect any data that might be stored, or shared with any private company, what’s to stop them going after bank records, or credit card data, or medical data? What are the limits? There don’t appear to be any. Who gets to decide what’s “content” and what isn’t,” Aurora Morales said?
A Google spokesman told USA TODAY, the internet company had not heard of the e-mail/instant messaging program.
In an email statement to USA Today, the spokesman said Microsoft has no knowledge nor does it provide the government with any such customer data, and they would be concerned if these allegations about the government were true.
Other internet companies such as Yahoo and Facebook responded the same!
Jim Brock, AVG’s vice president said Americans can take action to protect themselves by using privacy products like AVG antivirus software. Since, the Snowden disclosures began, antivirus companies ESET and AVG both said consumer interest in privacy tools have ski-rocketed. Consumers are becoming more concerned with their privacy and not taking their online activity so lightly anymore.