A secret system used by the NSA in the United States, PRISM, is supposedly slurping up all kinds of data from Internet companies like Google, Twitter, Microsoft and others. While there are more questions than answers at this point, one thing is clear, the United States government has significant data snooping and analysis capabilities.
The points of contention at this point are whether the government has “unfettered” access to personal data and if the system can be used for monitoring US citizens and not just foreigners.
Technology companies have been refuting claims that they allow the NSA to gather large volumes of data directly from them.
“Apple, Facebook and Google issued strongly-worded denials that they had knowingly participated in Prism, a top-secret system at the National Security Agency that collects emails, documents, photos and other material for agents to review.” – The Guardian
As a technically savvy person who uses services from all of the companies mentioned, I am not surprised or particularly troubled to find that some government agency might have access to my data. I understand the ramifications of putting my information online.
The way I think about it, I assume my information is up for grabs, under certain circumstances, and wouldn’t put information online that couldn’t be shared. The Internet is the last place people should hide their secrets.
While we should all have an expectation of privacy from governments and companies alike, the reality is that by putting our information online, we lose control of it. All it takes is for one company to cave in to government pressure and your information may be at risk.
So what can we do to combat this?
1) Put less information online
2) Accept that this is the world we live in
3) Continue to encourage governments and companies to make data privacy a priority
While it might be hard for some to put less information online, think of it this way. Do you really need to be on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google+? Do you really need to share your school, your telephone number and what your favourite books and movies are?
We can still use modern online platforms while sharing less information on them. Information can live for a very long time online.
Systems such as PRISM and other monitoring projects are not going to go away and we are only putting more and more information online.
Is the US the only country who may be gathering huge volumes of data? Doubtfully. China, Russia and Iran are just a few of the countries that spring to mind when I think of data gathering.
The major issue is that many technology companies are headquartered in the US and are therefore more within the reach of aggressive US authorities than those headquartered elsewhere.
Related: Why Electronic Banking Is Safe
Will PRISM significantly affect the number of people who use Facebook, Twitter or Gmail? I don’t think so.
While we may all be concerned with data privacy, we are more concerned with terrorists and militants. Unless crime and terrorism are drastically reduced, priorities probably won’t change. Physical harm is simply more important than the breach of privacy.
For more information on securing your presence online, there are several steps you can take. These might not stop the NSA however!
For the readers, are you concerned that the NSA might be gathering vast troves of data?
Andrew is a Canadian personal finance and investing blogger who recently moved to London, England. He has a background in technology and a passion for travel. His blog, She Thinks I’m Cheap aims to help Canadians build wealth by sharing facts, stories and advice.