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privacy news | Aug 27th, 2012

What Does the NSA Know About You?

Kent Lawson

The NSA, or National Security Agency, was authorized by President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 to monitor Americans who had links to terrorists. But no one really defined under what parameters the NSA could gather this information, including the courts and politicians.


But the basic gist was this: any American who made contact with a non-American could have their information intercepted and recorded by the NSA. With the help of legislation such as the Patriot Act, the NSA started gathering mountains of information, including emails, telephone conversations, text messages, and cellphone locations, among other things.

This surveillance apparatus is growing at an astounding rate. It’s so big that the NSA is building a 1-million-square-foot building in Utah to process all of the information being gathered.

Some of us might say, “Well, that’s the price of living in a post-9/11 world.”

But the gathering of information is not really the problem. The problem is that no one has established who should and should not have access to this mountain of information. This data is not anonymized, and there are no audit logs kept regarding who sees this information.

When Senator Ron Wyden asked the NSA if any U.S. citizens have had their privacy rights violated by this surveillance, the NSA responded that they couldn’t check their database records because doing so would violate these same privacy rights.

Who Watches the Surveillance State?

While the lack of oversight by Congress and the courts is troubling enough, what’s perhaps more troubling is how little people seem to care about such an obvious trampling of our right to privacy. Perhaps it’s because most of us assume that we are living in a post-privacy age.

Letting Google, Facebook, or online advertisers track our Internet browsing is one thing, but what about the government compiling huge amounts of data on us with no oversight at all? Is this the kind of world and country that we want to live in?

If it’s not, perhaps it’s time that we insist that our elected leaders stand up for strong privacy protections before our surveillance state becomes an entrenched part of the American way of life.


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