Three years ago today, whistleblower Edward Snowden proverbially climbed to the mountaintops and bellowed the unconstitutional sins of the National Security Agency to the world. He leaked thousands of classified NSA documents to Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill. These documents exposed how the NSA daily spies on American citizens and people around the world without bias or due process for gathering their information.
The average American tends to consider much of this factual information to be little more than conspiracy theory banter about some dystopian New World Order. The most common argument I hear is if I have done nothing wrong, I should have nothing to hide. This philosophy is flawed by its own logic. It assumes that everything that is moral, good, upstanding or otherwise not “bad” should be exposed for the world to see.
Would you walk down the street naked? Would you have sex with your significant other in the middle of a crowded sports stadium? Why not? Oh yeah, that little thing we call privacy. These same people expect privacy for such obvious matters as bathing, dressing, and intimacy yet they scoff at anyone who feels they deserve privacy in other aspects of their life.
Unfortunately, thanks to the Snowden Revelations, much of what we once considered to be our “private life” is far from it. Some insanely intimate details of our life are processed and collected daily by the NSA. Countless articles, books, and the like have already been written on the exact subject matter and implications of this unveiling. One of my personal favorites is this write-up by the EFF on the phone call metadata collected by the NSA.
Even if they aren’t collecting the content of your conversations, they can generally fill in the blanks for a lot of questions. If you have a contract phone or a prepaid phone and you provided legitimate identifying information about yourself to the carrier, your phone calls and locations are directly connected to you. Couple this with the fact that your credit card and bank account are connected to your social security number and you can figure out pretty quick what a person spends their time doing and who they do it with. This is the quickest way to break down a person’s privacy and learn mostly everything you need to know about them.
Sadly, most people in our society will never think twice about their privacy until its too late - much like house insurance, flood insurance, or learning to properly handle a firearm for home protection. Instead, they expect law enforcement and the government as a whole to protect them from the big bad identity thieves and stalkers who will gladly snatch their information up and use it for nefarious purposes. All it takes is one footstep to start a journey and one piece of information to destroy privacy and find a target.
Perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve seen since the Snowden leaks is the sheer number of stupid things people and companies do that practically hand their sensitive information over on a silver platter. I’ve seen websites store passwords in plaintext and fail to patch their software and servers to protect against the latest exploits. I’ve seen users reusing the same password for every website including their bank and healthcare accounts. I’ve seen people continue to leave the boxes from their big purchases with the rest of the trash by the curb. I’ve seen people continue to leave ladders in easily accessible areas on their property. These people are all but begging identity thieves to break in, violate their privacy, and ruin their lives.
Thankfully, I have also seen a new breed arise in society - one that takes its privacy to heart and, like myself, strives to protect the last few pieces of information neither Big Brother nor Facebook and Twitter know about us. Until we live in the ideal world where identify theft, hackers, and untrustworthy government agencies are no longer a threat, I will continue to do all I can to raise awareness of these issues and help my clients and readers reclaim their privacy, take back their personal lives, and pull the plug on government surveillance.