Surveillance authorities were always going to internet giants to demand that they give up information that is allegedly vital for the war against terrorism to succeed. However, this has been happening a lot lately and the internet giants want it to stop before business begins to suffer.
Reuters confirmed this February that AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo recently formed the “Reform Government Surveillance” in an attempt to join hands for the formalization of government surveillance processes that involve the retrieval of data from their data banks.
The Reform Government Surveillance coalition is a long awaited move that is finally seeing daylight thanks to motivation drawn from Snowden’s whistle blowing. The organizations have made it clear that they are not only frequently required to hand over data, but are also required to stay quiet about it. They have clearly had enough.
So the people who run our email, social networking and professional accounts want the NSA out of their heads because they are sick of the unwarranted spying and surveillance. But who will monitor the monitors? The recent Alex Kibkalo incident shows that these so-called advocates of online security are not completely innocent themselves.
Microsoft Goes Medieval on Alex Kibkalo
Microsoft suspected that senior architect Alex Kibkalo of having leaked details of unreleased Windows 8 updates, and decided to go through Kibkalo’s Hotmail email account, Windows Live SkyDrive and blog during its investigation. No permission from any court was sought, as Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Investigations department helped itself to Kibkalo’s data.
Clearly, the technology to rummage through a users’ data without any warrant exists and does not require any regulatory/legal authority’s permission. The technology can be used at will and data can be accessed without any display of due causes or subjection of due process.
This was one incident in which Microsoft went through user data without carrying out any proceedings, and there is no knowing how many times similar data retrievals have taken place in the past. There is no way to know if employees at Facebook can go through your profile; or if developers at Google can go through your Gmail accounts. We are at their mercy, simply because we choose to use their services.
This is a violation of an individual’s rights to internet privacy and data security! Who can we trust if we cannot trust the very people who promise to protect our data. According to the Microsoft Service Agreement:
“When you upload your content to the services, you agree that it may be used, modified, adapted, saved, reproduced, distributed, and displayed to the extent necessary to protect you and to provide, protect and improve Microsoft products and services”.
This is the clause under which Microsoft helped itself to Kibkalo’s data. Judging by this incident, I believe that Microsoft can do pretty much anything it wants to your data, as long as it is in the pursuit ‘to improve Microsoft products and services’.
Transparency Reports will detail Data Retrieval
Microsoft knew it would get a backlash from the people because of the way it dived into Kibkalo’s data. As a pre-emptive measure against the imminent backlash, the company announced that it would publish Transparency Reports twice a year in order to bring such data access records to the public’s knowledge. But if they were lying to us before, what proof is there that they won’t lie to us again?
Up until a few years ago, it was Corporate Social Responsibility when global warming was the big thing. Now, Transparency Reports are the new in thing. Organizations will do anything to prove that they here to do good and their intentions are nothing less than divine.
But is it enough to simply tell us that they have been snooping into our email accounts? Think about it! There is no regulatory authority that can monitor internet giants like Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, and Google. They own our data, and can develop any privacy policies they want to exploit it.
There is No Such Thing as a Free Dinner
Why would somebody handle all your data for free?
Have you ever passed a note to your friend during class? How does it feel when a third person reads the note before passing it to your friend? Nothing happens to the note, and your friend usually eventually gets it, but it’s wrong. It is unethical and immoral for the messenger to read the message.
Lately, the messenger (your email service provider) has been reading your notes (emails), and allowing others (the NSA for instance) to read them as well.
Every time you hit ‘Send’ after typing out an email, you are giving your data to a third party (a middle-man) who can do whatever it wants to your email before, during and after delivering it to its destination. The data is your property, but it is sitting on servers that are the third party’s property.
You are Powerless! Hand over your Data!
Your data is your property, and your email service provider will happily agree to that fact; but it will also remind you that your data is sitting on servers that are not your property. The servers are the email service provider’s property and if you are not comfortable with that, you can take your data somewhere else; to another email provider.
Similarly, the data servers are the email company’s property, and the government of the country they’re located in will happily agree to that fact; but it will also remind the company that the servers are sitting in a country that belongs is run by the government at the end of the day. If the company is not comfortable with that, it can take its servers somewhere else; to another country.
This circle of reliance makes you a slave to the government of the country wherever the email service provider’s servers are located. Your data belongs to the government. And don’t even bother talking about laws and rights, the NSA kicked those out the window a long time ago; first with the Prism program, and then when it created Bumblehive.
The Prism program was built (and still continues to function) on the principles laid down by Protect America Act of 2007, and is functioning on full throttle thanks to the independence that it gets from the Patriot Act of 2001. If it was not for Edward Snowden, the long arm of the NSA’s Prism program would have never been exposed.
Located in Utah, Bumblehive is the NSA’s data storage and mining facility. The 1.5 billion dollar facility houses a Tier III Data Center where a Cray XC30 Super Computer carries out over 100,000 trillion calculations per second. Bumblehive has the capacity to handle 1 trillion terabytes of data – YOUR data!
But the NSA does not need the Prism Program and Bumblehive to spy on you; not when it can make internet giants like Microsoft hand over your data.
All the Mission Statements are Lies, Except for the NSA
Organizations these days have missions and visions that sometimes sound like they’ve been drawn straight out from the Ten Commandments.
Facebook’s mission is:
… to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.
I believe that THIS is what it should be:
…to acquire power that comes with the ability to mine a near-infinite amount of data. Facebook uses people to collect data for analysis and mining of preference trends, so that the derived information can be used to make millions through an ambigious variety of means, that will forever remain covert.
Microsoft’s vision is:
…to create innovative technology that is accessible to everyone and that adapts to each person’s needs. Accessible technology eliminates barriers for people with disabilities and it enables individuals to take full advantage of their capabilities.
You mean to tell me that Microsoft has been functioning since 1975 just do make technology more accessible?! What is this? A Not-for-Profit powered by a group of philanthropists?!
If I could have it my way, I would add one small little line at the end of the vision statement: as we make more money than you can possibly count in a life time.
I rather prefer the honesty of the NSA’s vision:
Global Cryptologic Dominance through Responsive Presence and Network Advantage.
Simple, surgically precise, and unforgiving with words like ‘global’, ‘cryptological’ and ‘dominance’ leaving no room for doubt about the lengths the NSA will go to in order to follow directive.
The internet giants formed the “Reform Government Surveillance” coalition, and now it is our turn to form the “Reform Global Surveillance” coalition. We need to secure our data because our data is who we are! We cannot allow anybody to go through our data at a whim.
Nobody is here to serve us. Nobody wakes up in the morning and pledges their lives to serving humanity selflessly anymore! Not even Not-for-Profit organizations function without making a profit.
Our data is the prize that everybody is after, and our privacy is the price that we pay for our ignorance!
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