It has recently come to light in mainstream media that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been tracking emails, instant messages, other forms of internet communication, and most controversially, keeping track of American’s phone calls. The funny thing is that this news has come as a surprise to many people who thought that communication over the internet is safe. This is a stark contrast to what you would get if you talked to any tech savvy person (especially conspiracy theorists) in the past 10 or 15 years who could have easily told you this was going on.
The reality is that while it’s common knowledge that the US government (among many governments) has been wire-tapping phone calls and tracking web traffic for years, people in the US didn’t realize that they were also being subjected to these practices. Though it was has probably been occurring as long as the web has been around it is deinitly more common place now than ever before due to 9/11, the War on Terror, and the passing of the Patriot Act.
These practices are not far from view as one only has to look as far as Google and their popular webmail client Gmail for a great example of this new form of spying. The reality is that with Gmail being free you are presented with ads while you are browsing through your email, and to make this experience more attractive to advertisers Google presents you with targeted ads. These targeted ads have to get their context from somewhere, and that somewhere is the content of your emails. So one should already assume that if Google (though not people specifically) can “read” your email, then it shouldn’t be a stretch to assume that the government is also getting in on this treasure-trove of info.
This data mining of communications online isn’t limited to just Google and Gmail either, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Verizon, and many other tech and telecom companies are all participants in this system, whether they like it or not, because should they choose not to play along you can bet they will be one the receiving end of some “unrelated” investigation.
With the US government subsidizing internet network infrastructure in such a way that it is often cheaper to go out of your way to run communication channels through the US; it is now possible for them to listen in on the communication of the world.
So the next time you want to plot a terrorist attack, plan a protest, or just talk to someone around the world without big brother looking over your shoulder, think about using some encryption.