NebuAd vs. NSA
Even if NebuAd's & other companies' efforts to track US citizens' online habits fail due to lawsuits it overlooks an equally insidious but far more difficult opponent- the National Security Agency. According to James Bamford's "The Shadow Factory" the NSA are busy constructing a massive 'data warehouse' that will be capable, in his words of "holding all the information in the world"! Their supercomputers already outstrip anything else in the world, but a new one is on the horizon that will put even them in the shade. It will data-mine just about every piece of communications traffic that they can get their hands on. Apparently the NSA only have the power to eavesdrop on calls & e-mails that originate abroad, so Americans calling other Americans shouldn't worry about surveillance. But everything else that leaves an electronic trace is fair game; so that's- all your internet searches, bank transactions, online purchases, etc.
I presume there's no restrictions on whatever data the NSA can access from abroad. Once the British government's surveillance network is up & running I strongly suspect GCHQ will be more than willing to pass on all our internet traffic to the US. If the EU agree to share the data of people flying into the US you could have your online behaviour scrutinise to see if you are a 'threat'. I don't know how much (if anything) Obama will do to rein this in.
Every single day, to the general ignorance of the media & public, whether it's done in the name of national security, fighting crime and copyright infringement, technological progress or benefiting consumers, our privacy is being undermined in leaps & bounds. Every time it happens in makes us more accepting of it & easier for those in power to impose it. Even as we lose our privacy, those who are in positions of power & influence are steadily increasing theirs, becoming less publicly accountable, e.g. the Max Moseley case & the proposed censorship of newspapers on the grounds of national security. I thought it quite ironic that Sarah Palin refused to divulge who she voted for saying it was “private” at the same time the average American is under more scrutiny from a Republican administration than at any other time in their history. We are rapidly approaching a situation where we will be judged electronically for our everyday actions & the authorities will know everything about us at the touch of a button.
One futurologist has recently warned that the ‘Stepford Society’ we are creating will lead to serious civil unrest in the future. The seeds are already being sown. In the UK speed cameras are burned on a regular basis (£93,000 worth in Cambridgeshire last year alone) & last year a school caretaker sent letter bombs to protest at the taking of his father’s DNA. There will be other effects. Maybe most people will fall into the ‘nothing to hide’ brigade. However, considering the way ordinary people have been spied on by local councils & prosecuted for doing the wrong thing with their rubbish, I think lots of us will be seriously inconvenienced. And that’s by those who are accountable to the public. Organisations like the NSA & GCHQ are shrouded in secrecy & there will be little or no recourse against them for mistakes (which statistics reveal there are hundreds of a year in bugging requests), if we ever find out about it (which we won’t). What we should be worried about most is what sort of profiles are built of us from our online behaviours. The mere fact people suspected they were potentially being watched online, despite being in the privacy of their homes, will have a big chilling effect on the internet. On the plus side it probably would deter criminals. However, considering MI5’s track record of keeping tabs on politicial opponents, it would be no surprise if people visiting certain websites or leaving critical comments on blogs would come under the spotlight. If keywords are tracked some people will avoid typing or saying certain phrases. Certain books wouldn’t be bought just in case. Mobiles phones will be switched off or dumped to avoid our locations being pinpointed.
If this is the sort of society we want to leave in we should just carry on with our lives & ignore these issues. If we don’t then we have to fight. We have to fight by signing petitions, by protesting in the streets, by writing letters to the government & MPs, or voting out those responsible. You can be part of the public consultation of the Communications Data Bill before it comes to Parliament. You can sign a petition on the Downing Street website. You can install programmes on your computer that mask your IP address (e.g. Tor) or confuse those building profiles (TrackMeNot & SquigglesR add-ons through Mozilla Firefox). You could try to avoid leaving records of your purchases by paying only in cash or not having a loyalty card. Ultimately you could disconnect your internet connection & phone. Whether these could be much defence against the security services’ sophistication I don’t know, but it’s worth a try. Otherwise we’ll all be living in 1984, not 2008.