Why Our Privacy May Rest with the Data Collectors Themselves

Right on the heels of the leaked NSA order to Verizon Wireless, additional NSA programs were revealed. Notably, the PRISM program. Similar to the NSA Verizon Order, the PRISM program under the FISA Act of 2008 issues orders to companies to place surveillance on users for the collection of information pertinent to National Security. Revealed to have been subpenaed are Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, YouTube and AOL to name a few.

Unlike before 2008, the government did not need to link their surveillance request to a particular facility or target associated with terrorism. The FISA Act of 2008 redefined ‘facility’ to include any “massive data sets” — so the internet as a whole given the way it works. In a nut shell, FISA grants the government access to survey ANY electronic medium without probable cause, burden of proof or court review. Additionally, the 2008 Act granted companies immunity if they voluntarily complied with surveillance requests.

So with all these companies in the hot seat for abiding by these NSA requests, how are they responding given the rightful outrage of their users?

Facebook said:

When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.

Right – so the FISA Act of 2008 and the Patriot Act are laws so you are complying with them.

NEXT!

Apple said:

We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.

Oh, like the Court order that came from the secretive top floor of the Justice Department…you know, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — the one only the government can appear before, and only the government can read the classified opinions? Right, I guess that does constitute a court order.

NEXT!

As you can see the companies that are supposed to defend us from these NSA requests, or the companies through carefully worded PR statements that pretend to defend us, simply don’t.

In fact, they all joined the PRISM surveillance program voluntarily in the following order:

1. Microsoft 2. Yahoo 3. Google (Don’t Be Evil – haha) 4. Facebook 5. PalTalk 6. AOL 7. Skype 8. YouTube and last but not least 9. Apple.

Senators on the Intelligence Committee warned in 2012 of the more recent dangerous FISA loopholes that enhanced the 2008 Act, Mark Udall (D-CO) stated:

As it is written, there is nothing to prohibit the intelligence community from searching through a pile of communications, which may have been incidentally or accidentally been collected without a warrant, to deliberately search for the phone calls or e-mails of specific Americans

He along with several colleagues are bound by classified rules. But he and others encouraged Americans to be weary and to protest.

Of course, we don’t even know we are being watched most of the time, as it is done in secrecy. We know now because the program has been leaked. We have no control over whether our ISP, software, email or telecom provider leaks our data. But those companies do!

I maintain that the easiest way to stop these programs is for the companies to simply not comply with requests. Yes, the government may go after them — auditing them, failing to reward them with sweet lobbying concessions in laws that affect their bottom line…but so what! What’s to say the government when it gets to a certain point will be there for them tomorrow? NOTHING.

While all companies routinely invade our privacy for profit, its nothing like the NSA monitoring. In fact, Google’s leadership has been at the forefront of privacy law. They have vocally opposed such laws that bind them with cooperation of such security requests against their “principles.” So its simple — stand up for your principles. A company like Google is in the perfect position to do this. It is vast, extremely wealthy and very technologically savvy to challenge this kind of program.

A company like Google needs to simply not comply with an NSA request and force this issue into the court system. Someone at Google, using a confidentiality arrangement needs to flip the tables. Start releasing all NSA requests and refuse to answer them. Start exposing the government’s programs.

Of course, then the FBI will get involved and Google will get in trouble. But the likely scenario is the Tech-Titan gets this issue to go to a REAL court. Appeal all decisions all the way up to the Supreme Court. Require the laws be followed and the government to actually meet a Burden of Proof to require such data requests. I guarantee this program wouldn’t stand up in court, that’s why they created a secret court to circumvent the process.

All it takes is one courageous company to say NO. And while I understand it will bring some unpleasantness in the form of government harassment, I know once one stood up, the rest of Silicon Valley would too. And I know that if the issue went to court, the people would win.

I will leave one with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said

One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws…An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law

So if you were Google, or someone at Apple or another Tech Giant, would you have the courage to follow in the words of Doctor King and listen to your conscience? Would you stand for freedom, and stop with these requests you know in your conscience are wrong? IF you could alter the destination of American history by standing up for what is right today, not what is easy, for what is hard on the road for a better tomorrow, would you?

Ultimately Dr. King paid the ultimate price for his adherence to his conscious and was assassinated. Several arrests, court cases and marches for justice and standing up as an inspiration to a movement that fought unjust laws — and a people were free, despite his ultimate sacrifice. Today his views are the mainstream and he is revered as an American icon and hero.

Will you stand with the principles of Dr. King?

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