Tech Companies Don't Tell Whole Truth About Data They Send to Feds

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-06-17 Print this article Print

So the next obvious question that needs to be answered is whether your emails and phone calls are being monitored, whether your metadata is being harvested and if you can do anything about it. The short answer is that there isn't much you can do about it right now. But there's a longer answer.

The intelligence community is doing what it's allowed to do under the Patriot Act and some additional enabling legislation. This means that the relevant federal court has ruled that what's happening is legal. In addition, it's pretty clear from the strong support for the surveillance from both sides of the aisle in Congress that the Patriot Act isn't going to be repealed in the immediate future.

The only way you're going to change this is to elect lawmakers who don't think that the Patriot Act is a good idea. While it is the democratic solution, it's not immediate. But what you can do now is decide just what your risk actually is. Because the primary focus of the monitoring is metadata supported by keyword monitoring, then you have to know that your relationships may be studied if they reveal specific kinds of activity such as terrorism.

But metadata is a very powerful way to reveal relationships, so if you're a government official taking bribes or having an illicit affair, somebody might find out. Unfortunately, if you're leaking secrets to the media, the government might find out about that, too. But the metadata is supposedly limited to foreign contacts and to terror suspects, so you're protected, right?

Probably not. While the law is pretty clear that the NSA can only track foreign suspects, they have the data. And while it's not supposed to be used for domestic reasons, such as to see who is leaking sensitive data to a reporter, you have to trust that it's not being used for that. I'm not convinced that the Department of Justice, given its track record, can be trusted to that extent.

But what can you do? Apple has revealed that Facetime uses end-to-end encryption that Apple can't decrypt. BlackBerry says the same thing about BlackBerry Messenger. Even the connection information is supposed to be encrypted with those services. Is it? Perhaps, or there wouldn't be so many intelligence services trying to shut down BlackBerry. But even then, the only safe assumption is that someone is always listening.


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