News: PRISM scandal – tech giants flatly deny allowing NSA direct access to servers

I read this story with interest. So a highly secretive branch of the American government has been snooping on our emails, messages and calls using a sophisticated bit of software and the big tech giants may be complicit?!? Surely that’s not really a surprise to anyone is it?

It seems there are various disapproving camps forming around this.

First: a band of technophobes, incredulous at the thought that a government organisation would be able to spy on them in this way. I mean come on get real. Yes, conspiracy theory nuts have raved on about this for decades. But we the public, know that phone bugging can be done legally under a warrant; why would we think this has any limit?

The second camp is on a corporate witch hunt. How could Google and Microsoft not have known about this? Or worse, how dare they allow the government to put its sticky paws on our private correspondence?

You’ve seen Will Smith on the silver screen battling shadowy branches of American government ably assisted by Gene Hackman, a master of tech surveillance. It transpires that this shadowy branch has gone rogue and is targeting innocent members of the public. Is there anything unbelievable about this? The fact that the technology exists to allow this surveillance or that a government organisation can go rogue? (Or worse, conduct the surveillance without legal approval but with state support.)

It may sound like science fiction but the technology exists. Once that’s accepted I have my own view on its existence and use. A government organisation going rogue? The conspiracy theorists will be screaming at me but it is pretty implausible in this age of information and accountability.

For a start, why think that what you are saying and doing online is so interesting to the NSA? Let’s take that thought a stage further: if you are saying something that interests the NSA, I’d suggest I want you to be secretly monitored by them.

I know this will be at odds with many of you technically savvy people in this brave new I.T. world but I personally feel that I am willing to sacrifice a little bit of privacy for the greater good. I mean how do you think the security services in the UK foil terrorist attacks and keep us safe in our beds? Information and the control of it is the secret war no one likes to tell us about.

But do you know what, when I stand back and look at this again from a more suspicious angle I find myself asking a number of left-field questions that make me doubt the whole story.

If this technology does exist and is being used, why would an organisation like the NSA (arguably the most secure organisation in the world) allow the Guardian to learn of its existence and so make it redundant. I mean, any self-respecting terrorist would read this and not use the internet again, right? Lets remember the information regarding its existence was anonymously leaked and the online message boards are already full of anti-American rhetoric raving about Prism and civil liberties.

Whether the technology exists or not, don’t expect the Googles of this world to admit they let the NSA trawl through their servers. I guess I may be in the minority in not caring if they did. But if they stood up and said, ‘Yeah we share your data with the NSA,’ I think the shareholders would be none too pleased.

We know Google already mines internet usage to target users with appropriate adverts. For example, if I insert an advert from Google’s AdSense below this paragraph you should see adverts popping up relevant to things you searched or shopped for recently. Shame on you if Tracy, a single and very friendly lady is offering to visit!! 😉

This is all feels a bit like PR spin to me. On one hand I think we all know our internet usage is being monitored in some way by someone. I’m ambivalent to that fact. It being drawn to the public’s attention in this way has the smack of an opposition group attempting to stir up ill will against ‘Big Brother’.

On the flip side, come on tech giants, don’t treat us like fools. You obviously mine our data for your own purposes and as it suits you. Its not a huge leap to assume you’d allow selected organisations to do the same for the “greater good”.

So a sensational headline but really, is any of it big news or really that shocking or are we all just kidding ourselves about our personal internet privacy?

(Hint: we’re kidding ourselves. But don’t worry – Geek is here to help improve our online privacy: read on.)


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