Think of this: you’re going to the store to buy a gallon of milk, and you send a simple and boring text to your wife: “Going to store. Will pick up milk.” Did you ever think that such an innocuous communication would ever be surveilled? Believe it or not, it’s happening. If you own a smartphone, you are essentially giving up your privacy.
Edward Snowden scandal in 2013 exposed U.S. surveillance secrets to the media. How impactful is that scandal today? According to bbc.com:
“The scandal broke in early June 2013 when the Guardian newspaper reported that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans.
The paper published the secret court order directing telecommunications company Verizon to hand over all its telephone data to the NSA on an “ongoing daily basis”.
That report was followed by revelations in both the Washington Post and Guardian that the NSA tapped directly into the servers of nine internet firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to track online communication in a surveillance programme known as Prism.
Britain’s electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ was also accused of gathering information on the online companies via Prism.
Shortly afterwards, the Guardian revealed that ex-CIA systems analyst Edward Snowden was behind the leaks about the US and UK surveillance programmes.
He has been charged in the US with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence.”
It looks like two years later, the original spying program from the National Security Act that wasn’t authorized under Obama’s Patriot Act is now legal.
What does this mean? The government can still spy on you under court of law, and bulk phone metadata can still be gathered from America’s telecoms and can be forwarded to the government under certain court’s rule. An article on arstechnica.com states that the original law that was dismantled is now legal:
“In May, a federal appeals court declared the National Security Agency’s bulk telephone metadata collection program illegal because it wasn’t authorized under the Patriot Act, as the Obama administration and its predecessor administration had maintained.
Then, in June, Congress semi-dismantled the program with the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which President Obama signed on June 2. As part of the new act, Congress authorized a spying transition period of sorts where the old tactics could continue until new laws were in place.
But on Thursday, the same federal appeals court that originally declared it “illegal” now said the original NSA program could continue, beating back a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union that questioned both the transition period and the constitutionality of NSA surveillance overall.”
We are no longer a society of secrets. It’s been reported that Stingray surveillance is being used by local police departments. Many of these surveillance tactics are put in place to protect the public. But the ACLU and other citizen’s rights advocates are arguing against such privacy invasion. ACLU.org reports:
“The ACLU works to ensure that cell phone data is protected against unjustified disclosure. We advocate in courts, Congress, and state legislatures to make sure that law enforcement is required to comply with the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement before obtaining cell phone data from service providers or tracking phones directly using Stingray devices, also known as “cell site simulators.”
Our work in this area includes public records requests, friend-of-the-court briefs, and legislative advocacy. We also litigate lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the government’s invasive surveillance programs, advocate for increased transparency around phone companies’ provision of this information to the government, and encourage tech companies to employ technologies that protect their users’ privacy. “
When you look at this subject on a global level, it doesn’t seem like such an invasion of privacy anymore on a smaller scale. The everyday parent or employer can spy on their kids or employees with a product like Auto Forward or Highster Mobile, much in the same way. These cell phone spy products can help a parent worried about a child’s online life, and it can help an employer track the activities of an employee’s phone. If you are an authorized user of a target phone, you have the right to monitor.
Is a cell phone worth the loss of privacy? Most would say yes. Cell phones are an essential part of our lives, and most of us wouldn’t dream of giving them up. But the amounts of data that you send could very easily be viewed by government sources, your employer, or even your own parent.