The PRISM project gives the NSA access to most data kept by large companies on the Internet. Such data includes chat logs, emails, photographs, video conferences, search history, voice over IP, file transfers”the lot. The NSA has probably always scanned this Internet information while it is “on the wire.” The adoption of the encrypted “hypertext transfer protocol secure” (AKA the “https” in your browser) has made much of this far more difficult than the direct tapping of Internet wires. So the NSA needs access to your data via the service provider to make sure you’re not talking to “foreign agents.”
All major participants have categorically denied participation in the PRISM project. This is probably because it is a jailable offense to admit to doing secret intelligence work for the US government; all FISA requests and national-security letters come with a gag order. The White House has recently admitted to the program with the disclaimer, “It cannot be used to intentionally target any US citizen, any other US person, or anyone located within the United States.” These carefully chosen words are probably true on some level. The NSA probably doesn’t care what the average citizen is doing on Facebook or Yahoo! They do have access to the data should they decide to care.
If you are a reporter, whistleblower, or ever speak to foreigners, they probably care. If I were an American investigative reporter, whistleblower, or worried about conversations with foreigners, I’d use Yandex exclusively, probably via the Tor network. Unlike Google, Yandex is guaranteed NSA-free, as it is based in Russia. It is not completely NSA-proof, as they doubtless have other tricks, but at least our spooks are not sitting on the servers. What a state of affairs when Russia’s FSB is more trustworthy than America’s NSA!
These two “secret” programs are by no means the only government privacy invasions happening right now. These are tiny programs in the vast budgets allocated to signal intelligence. We know that there are about 850,000 citizens doing secret things and at least $75 billion allocated to intelligence work, which is roughly the GDP of Maine and Vermont combined. This seems like a rather large number in an “open society.” While some of this work is probably necessary, its sheer size should be a cause for concern. These programs’ obvious invasiveness demands harsh oversight at the very least.
I have a modest proposal. If there is truly nothing to worry about, all domestic government employees, officials, lobbyists, apologists, and contractors should be compelled by law to publish their telephone metadata records and personal Internet communications to the general public. Private-sector data-miners (AKA me) will keep track of it and report on our findings. Doubtless it will provide interesting information about the rampant corruption and foreign-agent contacts in our government. While terrorism is a problem, it seems to me that corruption and foreign agents’ influence on domestic politics is a more serious problem. If they have nothing to hide, they should have nothing to worry about. Surely the “transparency president” would agree?
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