I was not surprised at last week’s revelation about the NSA PRISM surveillance program involving large Service Providers and Internet companies. I am a Verizon customer, and am less than comfortable with the government tracking all of my Droid-based communications. But given my interest in data privacy and my personal study of this subject, this news was not a shock to me as it seems to be for a lot of Americans.
What is a bit of a surprise is the uproar about such government surveillance, when people freely give up far more information to corporate entities to get ‘free stuff’. With what I’ve read so far about PRISM, meta data about cell calls is collected and housed but not used in any way unless there is suspicion of association with terrorists or serious criminals, and then it can only be inspected under court order. Corporate entities, on the other hand, are actively profiling consumers and targeting them at every opportunity for commercial purposes. That’s fine and can even be good – I’m all for making money – but not when people don’t understand how they’re being tracked and are not given an easy opportunity to opt out. For more information on this topic, please refer to my recent paper “Big Data, Policy Options and the (Almost) Unrecognizable World of Communications”.
This morning I read an article based on the PRISM revelation entitled “Did Obama Just Destroy the U.S. Internet Industry?” opined by David Kirkpatrick at Techonomy Media. He points to the global nature and adoption of online tools like Facebook and Google, and how international users may now be concerned that their activities or data will be passed back to the U.S. government, thereby discouraging adoption and further growth. Well, that tracking has clearly already been happening, as it has with American citizens. But I don’t think our government has jurisdiction on anyone outside of the US, unless of course they are terrorists plotting an attack. While Mr. Kirkpatrick’s editorial seemed extreme, perhaps there is valid reason for serious concern. Users are finally waking up to practices carried out by both the government and corporate titans of the digital age. Their privacy is gone. The digital way of life is permanently entrenched, but perhaps this leak will be a watershed moment that opens the floodgates on privacy legislation across domains.