The Freedom Act – Reclaiming the Right to Privacy
If you’ve been paying attention to the latest scandal involving the NSA’s surveillance activities, you are probably aware that PRISM was just the tip of the iceberg. If you haven’t been keeping up, then allow me to introduce you to MUSCULAR, the obvious brainchild of the NSA’s toughest & most bad ass agents. (They also get laid a lot, according to sources that choose to remain anonymous.) Aside from one program having a name designed to appeal to the 10-12 year old male demographic, the two programs are very similar. PRISM allows the NSA access to private user data via a court approved process, which is unfortunately legal in post-911 American society. MUSCULAR does the exact same thing, except it says to hell with court approval, congressional oversight, or any semblance of restraint. MUSCULAR took a crowbar to the side door of Google & Yahoo’s data centers, riffled the underwear drawers, helped itself to the fridge, and left a big ole steamer in the middle of the living room floor for good measure. In other words, the NSA found a weak point in unsecured international fiber optic lines, and exploited it to gain unrestricted access to the data anyone and everyone who uses Google or Yahoo services.
In their official statements on the matter, Google was none too pleased and Yahoo
was just happy to seem relevant again expressed similar concerns.
The biggest issue this presents, especially for those of us that strive to make our livelihood using streams of 1’s and 0’s transmitted and stored via a series of tubes, is that this latest revelation shatters any previous illusion of privacy internet users might have had.
Let me be clear. There is no such thing as anonymity on the internet. No matter what software or proxies or whatever else you use, anyone who wants to know who and where you are, will know. That might sound like and exaggeration, but I’ll put it this way; if even members of the hacker group Anonymous can’t remain anonymous, ordinary users don’t stand a chance.
The thing is, even though deep down we knew that our activities could be monitored, most of us weren’t too worried. After all, what reason did anyone have to check up on us? The average interweb user doesn’t do much that would be of interest to anyone else, unflattering selfies aside.
However, programs like MUSCULAR have no regard for things like just cause or sanity. It simply gluttonously devours data, occasionally regurgitating the irrelevant bits, and hopefully digesting something of nutritional value that will… fight terrorism. OK, my gluttony analogy fell apart at the last second there, but you get the point. The NSA uses MUSCULAR and PRISM to sift through data just because it can, even when no one involved in the agency has even a rudimentary understanding of why they are doing it.
An even better summation of the issue was given by a guy who is much smarter than I am, Harvey Anderson, SVP, Business and Legal Affairs for Mozilla.
“Recent revelations of the NSA’s expansive surveillance programs harm user trust in the digital ecosystem, stifle innovation, and lead to a harmful balkanization of the Internet. Internet users around the world must be able to trust that their information, communications and documents are safe and secure.“
Yeah, it sounds much better when he says it.
But fret not! A partial remedy is on the horizon. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), chairman of the Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee in the House have introduced The Freedom Act, which aims to, “restore Americans’ privacy rights by ending the government’s dragnet collection of phone records and requiring greater oversight, transparency, and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance authorities.”
The act is far too detailed for me to get into in just on blog post, but here it is in a nut shell. The USA Patriot Act and the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act give the NSA and other agencies a wide birth when it comes to collecting intelligence data. The Patriot Act itself states that agencies may request “tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities…” This gives agencies like the NSA access to pretty much everything, or as Jon Stewart put it, “Our nation’s intelligence has to have access to everything except wishes and fairies.”
The Freedom Act doesn’t want to restrict our intelligence services to the information it needs, but it does aim to pull their faces our of the trough and ask them to at least breath between bites. Here are the three main goals of the bill.  End bulk collection of Americans’ communications records.  Reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by creating an OSA tasked with promoting privacy interests before the FISA court’s closed proceedings.  Increase transparency by requiring the government to make annual or semiannual public reports estimating the total number of individuals and U.S. persons that were subject to FISA orders authorizing electronic surveillance, pen/trap devices, and access to business records.
The Freedom Act isn’t a final solution, but it is a major step down the right path.
This might all seem a bit abstract, or even irrelevant to the common internet users, especially gamers. Just think about it though. Just how much of your personal information to you send out on a daily basis? How much does Google, Steam, Desura, Facebook, etc. know about you? Whether you like it or not, they know a lot. Everything that the EULA most people never read says they can know. Yes, this concerns all of us. Even if you don’t want to get involved, I urge you to get informed. Freedom is an essential quality of life, and letting it erode away, even a little bit, diminishes us all.
Until next time,