NSA Spying Extends Far Beyond the USA, and You Could Be at Risk
If you don’t know who the NSA are, you really should. This government department operates as one of the key data gathering and surveillance organisations in the world. The organisation has been around for over half a century, and operates as the US government’s main department for monitoring and collecting data. This means they have far reaching powers, and it’s clear that they aren’t afraid of overstepping their mandate. The department has been at the center of a number of scandals regarding NSA spying, and its lack of transparency suggests there may be far more going on than we know about.
What Is the NSA?
The NSA, or National Security Agency, was founded in 1952 by president Truman. The department was responsible for government spy activity and data gathering for the US government, but overstepped the mark more than once.
For instance, it has now come to light that a secret operation, MINARET, was used to spy on civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, and a number of other figures that had been vocally anti-Vietnam War. The operation was eventually wrapped up, with an internal review judging it to be ‘Disreputable, if not downright illegal’. This was just the first in a number of scandals that drew public attention to the organisation.
Under Richard Nixon, surveillance of US citizens judged to be a threat to his administration was routinely carried out. Following the Watergate scandal, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance act was put into place to restrict the NSA’s powers, but the problems didn’t end their. With the arrival of the internet, mass surveillance became easier than ever before. Concerns about terrorism drove forward the technology needed to quickly gather and analyse masses of data.
The realities of the extent of NSA spy activity was brought to light in 2013 when Edward Snowden, a government employee, leaked a cache of thousands of documents. The cache revealed that the NSA, in collaboration with governments around the world, was carrying out mass surveillance of citizens both at home and abroad. The organisation was harvesting phone records directly from Verizon, giving it access to information on millions of Americans. It had also set up Prism, a program that gathered huge amounts of data from companies such as Microsoft and Google, giving it complete access to private information from millions of users.
Is the NSA Spying on Me?
The NSA has a long history of carrying out surveillance on people in the US and beyond. Their lack of transparency makes it difficult to know exactly what they are doing, but history and the 2013 leaks suggest that they are casting an extremely wide net. It’s clear that the NSA does not feel obliged to respect privacy, even when their activities are close to or actually illegal. The 2013 leak showed collusion between the NSA and the following companies:
- Microsoft and their Skype division
- Google and their YouTube division
It’s no secret that, unless you have very unusual habits, you’re almost guaranteed to be involved with a few of the above companies. NSA spying is making use of the latest technology to spy on people all around the world, with the help of governments and the largest companies around. If you value your privacy, this is something you need to know about.
How Does the NSA Spy on Us?
Much of the surveillance carried out by the NSA would be impossible without the help of other organisations. The 2013 leaks revealed that the agency works with governments around the world, allowing it to harvest data directly from them. It also went directly to companies such as Verizon in order to gather a huge amount of phone records from ordinary American citizens. But its online program is easily the most far reaching.
The NSA officially requires a 51% confidence level in order to request data on a suspect. However, they are allowed to gather data on anyone connected to a suspect. That means that, for every one person they investigate, they have a potential list of hundreds of suspects connected with the initial one. Information was given to them directly, by the tech companies listed above, and by Verizon. NSA spying operations also collected information directly from other security agencies around the world, such as GCHQ in the UK.
Why Does the Government Spy on Us?
The program was set up in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and made use of the panic at the time to secure a free rein over data harvesting. The agency was secretly given the green light to act as it saw fit, and changes in legislation meant that it could essentially carry out internet spying on anyone as long as it filed the activity under terrorism.
While it’s true that a lot of the current climate of government spying is down to terrorist threats, the reality is that governments have been spying on their citizens since time immemorial.
General paranoia means that many government agencies are far happier when they have comprehensive information about the population. A lack of transparency makes it very difficult to monitor what these agencies are doing, and ensure that they are ethically in line.
While a certain level of targeted surveillance is essential in preventing terrorist attacks and other crime, the indiscriminate nature of the NSA’s activities raises a lot of concerns. It’s also clear that they have no problems with government spying on citizens who have done nothing wrong, and do not view this kind of practice as unethical.
Their priorities lie with shoring up their own power, and the most effective way to do this is by mass surveillance, even when such activity violates a number of laws and the American Constitution.
How Do I protect Myself from Government Spying?
The comprehensive approach to NSA spying on citizens, and their collusion with both the biggest tech firms and international governments, makes it essential that internet users have some kind of protection. History has shown that this organisation is not inclined towards changing its habits, and does not respond to public outcry.
The most reliable form of online protection is a quality VPN service. A VPN allows your computer to connect to websites as though it’s operating on a private network. Information is securely encrypted, making it impossible for third parties to access it. A VPN also masks your IP address, making it impossible for anyone to know which country you’re in. VPNs have become commonplace for many businesses, and are increasingly regarded as a necessary part of using the internet.
The realities of online surveillance and data gathering are only starting to become apparent. The internet is still very much in its early days, and due to the lack of transparency, it’s impossible to say who is accessing or trying to access your details and records. But judging by the scandals of recent years, government organisations cannot be trusted to respect citizens’ privacy.
The NSA is the biggest agency of all, and it’s surely only a matter of time before more facts on their activities become public. If you’re asking ‘Is the NSA spying on me’, sadly, the answer may well be: Yes.