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Does the NSA or Google Spy More on You? [Burning Questions Ep. 4]

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsezLe4l4fE&rel=0]

Today’s Burning Question for online privacy expert John Sileo:

“Who is the bigger spy, the NSA or Google?”

I thought that was a really fascinating question.  Of course, it comes because in the last couple of months the NSA has been outed by Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee.  The NSA (National Security Agency) has been spying on our phone calls- who we’re calling and when, our emails- who we’re emailing and what about, and even our social media posts.

The latest scandal is called “Muscular”.  Somehow, the NSA has gotten between the transmissions of Google and Yahoo.  In other words, the NSA has been “sniffing” the emails going back and forth between the two largest email providers in the US and this has angered the tech giants like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook.

Recently there was an article in the New York Times about the tech companies wanting to defend their privacy.  In particular, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, has gone on the record to the Wall Street Journal talking about how we need to do a better job defending our privacy.  (Watch the video embedded in our BQ video.)

Let’s take a look at a few of Schmidt’s comments.  First, he said, “You have to take a strong position in favor of privacy.  Do you really want the government tracking all of your information?”  I find it very ironic that this man whose company tracks all of our information is asking this question!  You could substitute Google’s company name for government:  “Do you really want Google tracking all of your information?”  Here he is calling for privacy on one hand and violating it on the other.

The second statement that is fascinating is, “Let’s start with appropriate oversight and transparency.  You don’t have to violate the privacy of every single citizen in America in order to find them.”  You might also say you don’t have to violate the privacy of every single citizen or track the privacy of every single user of Google in order to market to them.  It takes a lot of gumption for somebody who is so focused on collecting our private data to say that the NSA is collecting too much information!

So, the question again is, “Who is the bigger spy, the NSA or Google?”  Well, of course, the NSA is much larger and is collecting more information, but mostly thanks to companies like Google.

John Sileo is a keynote speaker and online privacy expert, as well as the CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. Recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

USA Today MUSCULUR

Privacy Expert: NSA Intercepting Your Address Books, Buddy Lists

Snowden_Leak_Tip_of_the_Iceberg_of_NSA_Surveillance_Program__141492What makes a privacy expert nervous? Glimpsing the size of the iceberg under the surface. When National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden became a whistle blower earlier this year, I think we all knew we were really just seeing the tip of the iceberg about exactly how much information the NSA was gathering on the average American citizen.  And it was a pretty large tip to start with.

Here’s a reminder of what started the whole thing.  Snowden provided reporters at The Guardian and The Washington Post with top-secret documents detailing two NSA surveillance programs being carried out by the U.S. Government, all without the average voter’s knowledge. One gathers hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records and the second allows the government to access nine U.S. Internet companies to gather all domestic Internet usage (so they are tapping pieces of your phone calls and emails, in other words). The intent of each program respectively is to use meta-data (information about the numbers being called, length of call, etc., but not the conversation itself, as far as we know) to detect links to known terrorist targets abroad and to detect suspicious behavior (by monitoring emails, texts, social media posts, instant messaging, chat rooms, etc.) that begins overseas. As a privacy expert, I understand the need to detect connections among terrorists; the troubling part is the scope of the information being gathered. Read more

Congress Fails to Limit NSA Surveillance Using Patriot Act Loophole

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NSA Surveillance includes the collection of your phone and email records for the sake of detecting and disrupting terrorism. The practice has proven effective, but the scope of the data collected (every phone call and email available, even if you are innocent) has raised eyebrows.

Congress, in a rare show of bipartisan agreement, may be leaning toward limiting the amount of data the NSA can collect.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., backed by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., put forth an amendment that would restrict the NSA’s ability to collect data under the Patriot Act on people not connected to an ongoing investigation.  The action was initiated after Edward Snowden, a government contract worker, leaked highly classified data to the media, revealing that the NSA has secretly collected phone and email records on millions of Americans without their knowledge or consent.

The bipartisan support was counterbalanced by a bipartisan effort to defeat it, with both House Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi opposing it.  In the end, the amendment to a defense spending bill was narrowly defeated by a vote of 217-205.

Still, the close vote may be indicative of a changing viewpoint in Washington: that NSA Surveillance should have oversight.  As Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., an Intelligence Committee member stated, “I think as more and more people come to understand the breadth of the authorizations that the NSA and other intelligence agencies have, they start to get a little worried about the encroachment on their privacy, and that’s absolutely fair.”

Himes stressed that the NSA is not out of bounds with their actions. “They are acting pursuant to very clear authority under Section 215 of the Patriot Act,” Himes said.   (215 provides authority for the surveillance programs.) But, he said, “that law is too broadly worded and being interpreted a little broadly.”

When the Patriot Act was introduced, there was an implicit understanding that the bill would come with a sunset period. In other words, the Act would be rolled back as the threat diminished. That rollback has never really taken place, and the NSA continues to exploit our short term memories by utilizing 215 to gather more information than the average American, heck, the average Congressperson, would be comfortable with. Once power is given, it’s exceptionally difficult to take it back. But Congress may be moving in the right direction.

Will Adams, Amash’s press secretary pointed out, “It was the first time that either house of Congress has gone on the record concerning NSA’s blanket surveillance since the NSA leaks started coming out.” He continued, “We got 205 votes despite the fact that we were up against the entire establishment in Washington…The civil liberties of Americans is not a partisan issue.”

Bill sponsor Conyers said in a statement to reporters, “This discussion is going to be examined continually … as long as we have this many members in the House of Representatives that are saying it’s ok to collect all the records you want just as long as you make sure you don’t let it go anywhere else. That is the beginning of the wrong direction in a democratic society.”

Despite the defeat, the debate has led to talk of cutting funding and denying the NSA the authority to continue its data collection. Talk in Washington, however, seems to be fairly cheap. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., cautioned the administration that if it “continues to turn a deaf ear to the American public’s outcry, Section 215 will not have the necessary support to be reauthorized in 2015.”  He further stated, “The proper balance between privacy and security has been lost.”

I’m not suggesting that the entire NSA program be scrapped, I’m simply asking for more transparency as to what is being gathered, and a certain assurance that private data is only being collected and retained on suspects actually under suspicion, not on every American citizen.

John Sileo is a cyber security keynote speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to harness the power of their digital footprint. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable.