There's a lot of raucous this morning about an NSA leak. The leaked files from the National Security Agency provided proof that the US Government is tapping into user data gathered by major companies.
Google, Skype, AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, YouTube, Apple, and various others are part of this particular NSA program. The file did not mention Twitter. What does this all mean to you? Should you be alarmed? Your questions are answered below.
Q: Is the government looking at my data?
A: Technically, the answer to this question is "yes." If you live in the United States, your data is accessible through most Internet channels. But, government officials aren't reading every email or Skype conversation created by every citizen. Officials are looking for keywords and targeting suspicious activity - it's also not that tough to track down specifics about anyone posting anything on Facebook or other public site!
Q: Is this a violation of my rights?
A: The notion of a government agency reading your every email can be bothersome. There are, however, two sides to this coin. Governments have to keep the general population safe. To do so, these same governments have to keep up with the population, and that means keeping up with technology. The legalities of the Internet are unclear here.
Q: Is this a new thing?
A: No. The aforementioned document was recently leaked, but that doesn't mean that the NSA has just started to monitor Internet activity. Governments (and not just the US Government) have been monitoring Internet usage for a very long time. It just so happens that this document was discovered recently.
Q: Should I stop using the Internet?
A: I'm certain the government would love it if everyone would go back to using landlines while ditching all things digital. It's a heck of a lot easier to tap a land line than it is to monitor all social networks across the board. You shouldn't stop using the Internet - but you might want to think about what you're emailing, posting, or saying during a Skype conversation.
Q: Why aren't companies protecting my data?
A: It's easy: if a company wants to operate without government interference, that company has to comply. Google has stringent policies about what the company will and won't release, and Twitter has been known to take a stand against the government. Most companies, however, will give up all of your details if Uncle Sam comes knocking.
Q: Should you be shocked, awed, and surprised?
A: No; not at all. If you use the Internet in any way, your data is public in some way. Whether allowing the world to see your photos on Facebook or realizing that government officials can listen to your Skype conversations, Internet information is public information.
Q: What should I do?
A: Sit back, relax, and continue to operate as you normally would. Or, you can join any group that will soon be protesting this government peek at your data (I'm certain some will form shortly). Do keep in mind, though, that nothing you do online is private - even if files are securely sealed from other random people, the government has access.
Some additional companies (like Dropbox) may be added to the NSA list soon. This news is big news because it was a secret for so long, but, really, wouldn't it just be easier for everyone if the government let us all know that these things are happening? Suddenly, the surprise of it all would disappear. Just a thought. What's yours?