How Worried Should You Be About the NSA's PRISM System Watching You?

3 minute read
Chris Knight avatar

How Worried Should You Be About the NSA's PRISM System Watching You?

To paraphrase The Police song (which is apparently the NSA's hold and dial-in teleconference music), "Every Key You Press, The Government is Watching You", as leaked documents show the NSA has full access to most social media and search sites. 

Spreading Light and Secrets With PRISM

Another day, another case of the government watching what you do online. Following on from the government's massive Verizon swoop on phone call details and metadata, today we see Project PRISM brought to light, via a leaked PowerPoint presentation (thanks, Microsoft) from the NSA.

This claims that NSA operatives have access to core data from all the major web names and provides access to email, chat, video, photos, VoIP traffic, with a focus on international traffic that lands on U.S. servers. That alone might be enough to cause a sigh of relief to all those bankers discussing insider trades, online gamblers and even domestic malcontents.

But, for a nation nominally called the "land of the free", it hammers another nail into that particular coffin. And how can the American government complain to China about hacking U.S. companies, when it does the same? 

Naturally the government has declared this secret project that no one is really allowed to check on as completely legal, and in the national interest. If you believe in an honest government, and you have nothing hide, then carry on with your life as usual. Of course, what the tabloid press are focusing on, and what the NSA actually do beyond the PowerPoint could easily be two very different things. 

A Drop in the Data Ocean

PRISM is really just the latest in electronic services to hit the headlines. Around the turn of the century, when the eaves-dropping and data-gathering stations that formed Project Echelon were big news, online posters ganged together to put as many controversial key words and codes in their electronic signatures to attempt to flood the service.

Learning Opportunities

Most likely all that data collected in the year or so until the fuss died down, would make up less than all the vast amounts of data flung around the web in just one day. That sheer volume makes it highly unlikely that even the NSA's resources can do more than a cursory scan of whatever data they can access. Of course, the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, among others, have had plenty of their own privacy issues to deal with. 

Retention of such vast amounts of data will also be a problem, so its not likely that they'll be keeping this stuff for long. So, the chances of some online misdemeanor catching up with you is pretty remote. 

 Even so, with almost all the major companies being scanned (apparently without their approval according to a barrage of statements), its not like we can threaten to quit one service in favor of the other. If you are worried then switching to smaller services is an option, as long as they don't use the big player's systems in the back-room.

Still, if you genuinely think they are out to get you, then dropping off the grid remains the most practical alternative. Are you prepared to take that leap? some folk have, and enjoy rich and fulfilling lives (not that we hear about it much). Those that come scurrying back to the digital world suggest its not that easy.