Big Brother and Internet Security

Big Brother and Internet Security

I just finished watching the movie “Snowden” – a dramatic retelling of the years of Edward Snowden‘s life leading up to his 2013 dump of government files verifying that the NSA and federal agencies around the world have been gathering data without consent for years. The movie itself over-dramatizes the situation, because it’s a Hollywood Blockbuster starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, and Nicolas Cage among other celebrities, but it also sheds light on a very important question going on in society regarding unregulated data collection.

That is, should we do it?

Should the NSA, CIA, etc. have free rein to access data from networks like YouTube, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter? Should they be able to collect the data in relation to literally anyone?

I spent the better half of my afternoon following the movie pondering these questions. There is no real answer that jumps out at me – as on the one hand, data collection is good. Much, if not all of our world revolves around the internet and a lot of information can be gathered from basic queries of things like Facebook pages and Twitter posts.

The government takes the sifting and collecting of data one step further, though, wherein lies the moral question. For the NSA and CIA collected data from anything and anyone they had access to. Literally every byte of data that floated through the internet was capable of being seized by the NSA using something called the FISA. The government was using this rather questionably, however, as the Act allowed for agents to use blanket excuses to research topics.

For cyber-investigation the government uses something which, if better regulated, is justifiable in researching suspects in the digital age. Using a program called XKeyscore they enter a search, which basically works similarly to a Google Search, indexing through every heap of data that they have ever had pass through their system matching the query. Cell phone calls from Verizon, congratulatory Facebook posts from your grandmother, texts from your significant other with the pictures of your newborn baby.

Questions of morality continue in the use of the program. Government agents were using it to spy on colleagues, partners, and friends – along with innocent civilians. The movie makes it a point to highlight that it doesn’t just track the target. The program sifts through personal connections starting with the target, but after looking at just one or two connections combing through users’ contact books the program could have already scraped the data from 2.5 million citizens around the globe.

“Every day you’re just sitting in a database, waiting to be looked at. Not just terrorists or countries or corporations, but you.”

I believe in the use of anonymity on the Internet. I think that the collection of the data of literally every citizen around the globe is wrong in its current standards. I think much change needs to be made to the collection system in place today – but I don’t think the resource of data collection needs to be abandoned.

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