Edward Showden, 29 year old contactor for the Nation Security Agency (N.S.A.) leaked a lot more than previously thought. New stuff just keeps coming out. So what are the latest revelations? The New York Times recently reported that the NSA has been making extensive graphs of some individuals created out of metadata collected from their phone calls, emails and social media connections. With this data, they can tell who a person travels with, where they go, who their friends are and other relevant social connection information. So has the NSA hacked your Facebook account? That depends on who you are.
The graphing of people’s social networks began in 2010. The act is done for foreign intelligence purposes. The intention was to track connections between people overseas and people in the U.S. They were looking for terrorists but also picked up drug smugglers, diplomats, business people and others in the process. So if you are in contact with people overseas, the NSA may be watching your metadata and making a social graph about you, to determine who you are, and who you are connected with.
Just to be clear, they don’t listen to your phone calls or read your emails. But they can see how long a call was, where it originated, who it was to, how long the call lasted and how frequently you called this person. With email it’s the same thing, who, where, when and how frequently. The amount of information they have collected is astounding. The NSA took in several billion phone calls a day.
Don’t think the companies will stick by you, if you have been calling or emailing with folks overseas. Sprint and AT&T handed over their records continuously. Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and other companies were also complicit, though they claim they were bullied by the government to hand over documents. The NSA also obtained encryption keys from many companies and has backdoors built into many products, obtained with the permission of each manufacturer. A list of companies that have chosen to cooperate hasn’t been released. So can the NSA hack anything else besides a person’s Facebook, emails or phone calls? Or should I say does it have any other means of collecting metadata?
According to Germany’s Der Spiegel the NSA has the ability to hack your Smartphone. They can collect contact lists, SMS traffic, and pinpoint exactly where you are and where you have been. They can crack a Blackberry, an iPhone and an Android. NSA agents can’t read messages from one Apple product to another, but it’s possible they can get these messages before or after they are encrypted.
The country’s biggest spying agency has the ability to enhance the metadata they’ve collected not just form companies but from banks, Facebook profiles, plane ticket information, GPS and other sources. The documents released to the Times don’t say how many Americans were tracked, and the NSA has been quiet on this point.
The National Security Agency can break through website encryption and see enormous amounts of personal data, though they aren’t doing it just yet, supposedly. They can get trade secrets, personal information, online purchases, internet chats, even web searches.
In 2012 Facebook handed over between 18,000 and 19,000 user’s information to all different branches of law enforcement including the National Security Agency. So if you are one of these people, the NSA has definitely hacked your Facebook account.
They can see anything that’s 4G including your tablet. If you use Microsoft Outlook, Skype to chat or call, or store things on SkyDrive, congratulations the NSA has unfettered access to all of your information. Microsoft claims it didn’t want any trouble and conceded to the government’s “lawful demands.”
The fear is that others, such as unscrupulous hackers, could follow in the NSA’s wake, raid people’s bank accounts, steal their identities and wreak havoc. Another concern is a terrorist organization, or an unfriendly nation like North Korea could use these techniques to stage operations, inflicting tremendous harm.
Even if the NSA hasn’t hacked your Facebook account, allowing this sort of unrestrained access to millions of people’s information is unforgivable. And it’s a slippery slope to totalitarianism. Benjamin Franklin said that “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” Perhaps we are still struggling in a post 9/11 world to find the right balance between freedom and security. But the scales have tipped way over to the security side. It’s time we brought things back to a reasonable center.
By: Philip Perry