Category Archives: White House

The Future of Tech Companies, the NSA, and Your Information

Guest Post by Lewis Jacobs

Verizon and the NSA

Last week, the technology world was turned upside down when the Guardian broke the news that the National Security Agency had directed telecommunications company Verizon to release customer call records and metadata on an “ongoing daily basis.”

Though the metadata doesn’t include the audio content of calls, it does include the phone numbers on both ends of calls, the devices and location of both parties involved, and the time and duration of calls.

The order was leaked by Edward Snowden, an analyst for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton at the NSA. The order targets both international and domestic calls, and it does not contain parameters for who can see the data or whether or not the data will be destroyed after NSA use.

Though the White House and the NSA say that the data will only be used for counter-terrorism efforts and other national security measures, the order nonetheless gives the federal government access to data from all of Verizon’s more than 100 million customers.

Since the story broke, there has been significant debate over whether the NSA is working within the regulations of the First and Fourth Amendments or whether it is violating citizens’ rights to free speech and privacy. The White House has defended the order as a necessary measure for national security. But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union and several U.S. lawmakers, disagree.

What it means for the future

The controversy raises the question of whether or not other technology and telecommunications companies will be required to follow suit—or whether they already have. Amy Davidson at the New Yorker speculates that the leaked Verizon order is “simply one of a type—the one that fell off the truck.” Adam Banner at the Huffington Post wonders, “How many other ‘top secret’ court orders are currently in action with countless other information providers?”

The NSA is said to have been monitoring and collecting customer data from some of the world’s largest technology companies with the help of surveillance program PRISM. But many companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and AOL, have denied providing the government direct access to their users’ information. Google, one of the companies to deny any knowledge of PRISM, wrote an open letter to the Attorney General and the FBI requesting to make public any federal requests for data.

In any case, it’s unlikely that the NSA demanded customer information only from Verizon, meaning that the federal government could be (and probably is) accessing information about citizens through their phone providers, their email services, and their search engines. Faced with federal orders, there’s not much that technology companies can do in opposition.

The future of NSA technology surveillance will depend, of course, on its legality, which is yet to be determined. It’s unclear whether or not the NSA’s actions fall under the provisions of the Patriot Act, the FISA Amendments Act, the Constitution, and federal government’s system of checks and balances.

The American Civil Liberties Union recently announced their plan to sue the White House Administration for violating the privacy rights of Americans. On the other side, whistleblower Edward Snowden is currently under investigation for the disclosure of classified information, an offense that could result in life in prison.

This article was submitted by Lewis Jacobs, an avid blogger and tech enthusiast. He enjoys fixing computers and writing about internet trends. Currently he is writing about an internet in my area campaign for local internet providers.