Tuesday, October 08, 2013

On the dangers and pitfalls of diminished electronic privacy

With the national press closely tracking the blow-by-blow, this blog has not been closely following revelations about NSA data gathering on Americans' phone calls, including at least for a time their cell-phone location data. But I wanted to point readers to this new story from the UK Guardian detailing more of the agency's internet surveillance capabilities. As depicted in training materials for a program called XKeyscore, "the ability to search HTTP activity by keyword permits the analyst access to what the NSA calls 'nearly everything a typical user does on the internet'." In  another major revelation, cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier has a fascinating (if rather technical) article about how the NSA is able to exploit vulnerabilities in Firefox web browsers to defeat the Tor online anonymity service, one of the more powerful encryption/anonymity methods available to the public. More on that here.

There have been a couple of other recent national news stories on electronic privacy that may interest Grits readers concerned about electronic privacy in the digital age:
The lengthy CIR story reminds us that "it’s not just an ultrasecret spy agency that can create a dossier on you." For example, "Law enforcement can create a map or timeline of a person’s whereabouts by accessing data from license-plate scanners, toll-bridge crossings and mobile phone carriers and, without much trouble, access records on your power consumption, purchasing habits and even snail mail." In some states, much of the same data can be acquired by divorce attorneys or other private litigants.

The latter article contains an interesting thought experiment from John Dean, who was Richard Nixon's White House counsel during the Watergate scandal:
Here's a question for the digital age: If you are one of those people who say, "I've done nothing wrong; I've got nothing to hide," do you have any reason to worry that someone might try to use your digital records against you?

We posed that question to John Dean, a man who has become immortalized in U.S. history books as President Richard Nixon's White House lawyer. His answer: "Think about the Nixon Enemies List."

"If Richard Nixon were alive today and in office," Dean says, "I'd have great concern about the data that's being collected."

Dean says the history of Nixon's Enemies List, which surfaced during the Watergate scandal, shows that even when people have done nothing wrong and think they have nothing to hide, unscrupulous government officials can still dig up personal information and use it to try to smear people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

See here for more info on what the government does with Americans' data http://www.brennancenter.org/publication/what-government-does-americans-data