This is an open call to members of the international community, whether citizen, corporate or governmental, encouraging you to act immediately to circumvent and block the global communications surveillance systems set up by the National Security Agency. Additionally, I call on the United States Government to shut down the NSA entirely, as it has massively overstepped the bounds of acceptable’ state surveillance and made a mockery of both international and US domestic law.
The eyes, ears and fingertips of the NSA are all over the innocuous digital communications of people not suspected of any crime, all across the globe, including here in Australia. If you use services provided by Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, or Yahoo, your private data is probably being stolen too. Yes, that’s right, YOUR data.
Soak that up for a second.
Now, if you are anything like me you are probably wondering, who is this organisation that’s stealing my personal data? What information about me are they harvesting? What are they doing with this information? Do they have a warrant? Is it even possible to monitor all existing internet connections at once? How are they doing it? Can I stop them?
Who are the NSA?
The NSA are a highly secretive US intelligence organisation established in 1952, whose existence was first publicly revealed by the “Church Committee” commissioned by US Senate in 1975. Originally, the NSA was tasked exclusively with monitoring communications abroad; essentially it was to be the USA’s chief weapon in the communication and cryptography battles of the cold war. A recently declassified document reveals the NSA was illegally monitoring the communications of their own citizens at least as far back as 1967.
Without yet having known it to be the case, in 1975 Senator Frank Church presciently said the NSA could be “turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything”. He could not possibly have know how right he was, nor even imagined the extent or implications of the NSA’s communications harvesting program in today’s digital communications environment.
What are they harvesting?
In 2013 there are now well over 10 billion devices connected to the internet globally. All of that data runs through a series of high-capacity international fibre-optic communication lines which we know are being tapped as part of the NSA’s X-Keyscore Program, with the co-operation of other digital spying agencies such as the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Combined with intelligent metadata harvesting through PRISM, these direct-from-the-fibre streams give the NSA the ability to monitor ”nearly everything a typical user does on the internet’‘.
What is metadata?
In general all online communications contain important information such as source of data, destination of data, a description of data, size in bytes, date modified/created, time sent, and time received. This is called metadata. Some forms of communication will contain significantly more metadata than others.
Email metadata could include details such as time and location an email was sent or read, size and name of attachments and where they were stored on drive, and even the full text of an email. A Skype calls’ metadata could include username, real name, mobile number, email address, destination of call, origin of call and length of the call. It may also include any text sent or media attached during the conversation. It is hard to know exactly how detailed the metadata being harvested from a persons day-to-day usage of Facebook, Google+ and Twitter is. Nor do we know the extent of information garnered about peoples movements through the often constantly running GPS services built into these applications. But when combined with a direct stream of the FULL communication stream; the possibilities are virtually endless and extremely concerning.
Am I being monitored?
As a vocal activist I am more than aware of my status as a likely target and potential victim of this surveillance network. I have no doubt that the combination of metadata which could be harvested from my daily use of digital communications would enable someone to build a strikingly accurate profile of my life. My daily travel to and from work and time spent at my desk could be monitored through the physical location associated with the IP address of the device from which I access Facebook/Twitter, or via my GPS which is often ‘on’ due to a game I play.
I have no doubt the NSA would also have open access to information about which Facebook ‘groups’ I am a part of and which ‘pages’ I administrate. Despite having my privacy settings ‘up’ on Facebook, I have no doubt my status updates, photos, likes and other Facebook interactions could be being recorded. It is also highly likely the metadata of secure communications sent across banking EFT networks is also recorded, so the NSA potentially also knows when, where and on what I spend my money too. Read this article by James Bamford, for more on this. Personally, I have no explicit evidence to suggest this is happening to me, indeed I hope it is not, but the possibility and perhaps even likelihood IS there; despite the fact I am not suspected of any crime.
We are all being monitored.
The net is being cast as wide as possible and it has been known about since long before Edward Snowden informed us about PRISM. It has been done like that on purpose, because the NSA and their leadership in the US Government believe it is their imperative to “collect it all“. The Electronic Frontier Foundation provide an interesting timeline of the NSA’s domestic internet surveillance history, but the full history extends back far beyond the existence of the internet. The NSA has been involved in the opening of letters sent through US postal services, wiretapping telegrams, recording telephone conversations and intercepting satellite communications both internationally and domestically for decades.
Can I stop them?
Of course there are things which can be done to make it more difficult for the NSA’s analysts to find you, or to decrypt your data when they do receive it, but the short answer to whether or not you can actually stop them harvesting your data is: no, not really.
What you CAN do.
Read more. Get to know about the issue and start talking with experts about it. The first place to start is with your own understanding. You need to understand what your rights are and determine if they are actually being infringed upon. If your rights are ‘not’ legally being infringed upon, develop a clear argument as to why you think your rights need to be expanded to protect your personal communications from this kind of data mining.
Write about it. Send letters-to-the-editor. Send letters to your members of Parliament. Write blog posts, tweets and create informative Facebook meme’s and share them with your friends and family.
Sign the ‘Stop Watching Us’ petition.
Follow the EFF’s “Ten Steps You Can Take Right Now Against Internet Surveillance“. However if you are worried about ‘highlighting yourself’ to intelligence networks, I would suggest steering away from suddenly abandoning all forms of non-encrypted communications at once and jumping head-first into TOR and VPN’s. Start small, take your most personal and private communications away from Facebook and email, but leave the innocuous stuff there. Turn off your GPS and ‘location tracking’ on your phone, if you don’t want that data monitored. You don’t need to hide everything you do, but there are certainly some obvious places to start.
This is a global issue.
So whether you are Australian, Indonesian, Italian, Iraqi, Egyptian, Brazilian, Russian or French, it doesn’t matter. We are all in this together. We are ALL being targeted and it will require us all to fight back if we wish to prevent this from getting worse, let alone to turn the tide back toward more sensible, targeted surveillance of criminal elements.
What is happening now are unacceptable breaches of privacy on a global scale, we as the people of this world deserve our right to privacy. That is why I am calling on the US Government to shut down the NSA and it’s global surveillance network.