The Guardian broke the story this week, outlining that the US government is conducting widespread fishing expeditions on the call data of Verizon Wireless customers in the US. It is assumed this is going on at all US phone carriers. The government claims they are only collecting “meta data” and not the contents of phone calls but many say the meta data alone is illegal. That data includes: call duration, location, time and identification numbers. The current program evolved out of the Bush era warrantless wiretapping. While many assumed the abuses ended when Bush left office, it is obvious it has continued unabated. According to comments from Congresspeople in the know, it has been and is ongoing.
The US government admitted to another program called Prism that allegedly only collects “foreign” internet data. The program includes cooperation from Google, Microsoft, Apple and many other providers of online services that gives the US government direct ongoing access to their users information and content. Nothing known about the Prism program excludes domestic content from being directly accessed by the NSA. Prism has been in place since 2006 around the same time some changes were made to the Patriot Act, the group of laws that are the basis for all of these spying activities.
Private Sector Spying:
The WSJ said they could not completely conclude if the government was collecting credit card data of people’s purchases. This would not necessarily be something the government would need to collect as the private sector has been harvesting this kind of data for years and will readily sell it to anyone willing to pay for it. Their willingness to give it to anyone willing to pay for it was highlighted by the Choicepoint data breach where identity theives posing as companies bought vast amounts of consumer data. These companies pull in everything from driving records to information about your home to your purchases made. They are also frequently completely wrong and show inaccurate data about business ties, residences and even lists people as relatives that are not. Choicepoint admits they sell this data to the FBI and “other intelligence agencies“.
Retailers asking for your phone number or zip code when you make a purchase use that information to connect in to wider databases or to sell that data to data brokers like Choicepoint. Privacy advocates urge people to not give out phone numbers or zip codes when making retail purchases.
Needed Against Terrorists (or not):
The government response to being outed for even more widespread spying and fishing expeditions on ordinary citizens was to claim it was needed to foil terrorists. Meanwhile the Boston Bombing suspects information was never handed down to local and federal law enforcement in the Boston area. While the Tsarnev brothers were planning their plot, the Boston area fusion center was busy spying on Occupy protesters. Yet this was nothing new as this had been going on for months in NYC where local law enforcement, federal agencies and private sector security from the Wall Street banks together spied on Occupy protesters and created response strategies.
Spying On Internet Traffic:
It isn’t just providers like Google and Microsoft that are giving away information to the government. Way back in 2006 a technician from AT&T outed the government effort to put equipment on internet routing equipment to have a constant and ongoing access to both phone and internet traffic without a warrant.
Protesters Fight The System:
Protesters in Turkey have used creative ways to get around a government crackdown of the internet after widespread protests broke out. Using various apps protesters have been able to get around the government’s blocking of social media websites and other communications tools are being used to coordinate protesters.
On the bright side, the ACLU says the new admission of the Verizon widespread call record spying is enough for them to institute a lawsuit. If it could change anything remains to be seen.
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