Big Brother is Watching, But Should We Care?

It’s no secret that after 9/11 the US Government received the okay to review its citizen’s data in unprecedented amounts. Up until recently, what’s been lesser known knowledge is that the FBI is not only able to access and review non-encrypted data via its Prism software, which grabs data from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and to a certain extent Apple, but that it can also demand it.

Just recently, a gag order from an 11-year-old, high profile case between the FBI and Nicholas Merrill, the founder of Internet Service Provider Calyx was removed, and what we learned from it was a huge shock.

It was revealed this past Monday that the FBI is able to issue letters to Internet Service Providers, such as Calyx, demanding web history, phone location, online purchase information, as well as the IP Address for every user a person has come into contact with. What comes along with the demand for this information is a gag order, ensuring the company that owns the data is unable to talk about the request for user data requested by the FBI and NSA, often, without a warrant.

This latest revelation is one piece to an ongoing debate between the US government and technology giants. In the past, Yahoo fought and lost the right to keep its user data private, having to choose between hefty fines or continuing to battle the government in court.  Currently, Apple is in the courtroom with “Big Brother” regarding its use of encryption software. Data records that are encrypted cannot be accessed by the Feds, and Apple has sworn that they will not bend on compromising its user’s privacy. But, with the threat of heavy fines and other penalties looming, how long can they hold out?

These high profile cases have shown what even the most naïve citizen has known for the longest, Big Brother is watching. However, a pertinent question is should we care? Former NSA big-wig and analyst William Binney seems to believe that the FBI is taking in entirely too much civilian personal data, so much so that they are unable to effectively analyze it all and adequately stop threats to national security. If this is the case, then why is the collection such a big deal?

On the one hand, I shudder at the thought of somebody sifting through my personal data, building profiles on me, and generally knowing everything about me through unconstitutional means. On the other, I know I’m not a threat, so I’m inclined to be mildly apathetic. Small price to pay to keep us safe right?

Binney is quoted as saying that the FBI and NSA are “taking half of the constitution away in secret.” Should we be less concerned about the data being used and more concerned about it being used ineffectively? The idea that an FBI analyst is able to create profiles on civilians based on online behavior isn’t quite scary–if they’re doing so to monitor for security threats. Sadly, I’m more worried about the marketing companies tracking data on Facebook and Twitter to sell me things than I am of the FBI. That is unless, the government wanted to sell me something.

Ultimately, there will always be secrets that the government keeps from the population; that’s the nature of national security.  As the years go on, my opinion might change in this matter, but for not, go head government, watch me #werk.


Elizabeth Aguirre is a technology professional with over 8 years experience working in the software industry.Currently Elizabeth is pursuing an M.S. in E-commerce at DePaul University and works as a consultant for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing in Chicago. She is on a one woman mission to empower small business owners through the use of technology.When she is not being a “cool mom” to her daughter Esther she enjoys and working on her personal web page, the Chitown Reikologist.