Right Question, Wrong Focus

The damage caused by Edward Snowden is almost immeasurable and definitely irreparable. Hundreds of millions of dollars (more?) were wasted because of his selfish acts. He signed an oath to his country and completely defied it. However, he did start a conversation that almost everyone agrees is a necessary next step. The conversation has been about the wrong topic though. Everyone is examining the NSA programs rather than looking at the source – the companies that were providing the information to the NSA. The NSA gathers information, but has checks and balances like the rest of government and was not doing anything illegal in the PRISM programs. Private corporations have all of the information that the government was gathering and don’t have anyone looking over them to protect the rights of individuals.

The “super secret” NSA programs are about national security, not infringing on your privacy. The government officials are not monitoring general habits. They are looking for people who are out to hurt the citizens of the United States of America. Companies, however, can tell you your buying habits, where you prefer to hang out, who you’re with, etc. They know so much more than the NSA even cares about. They are the ones collecting the information. They are the ones hiring new graduates to analyze the big data resulting in complete profiles of indviduals. They are the ones providing the NSA with this information. They are the ones that are making a profit on our information. They are the ones who can do the most damage.

So really it’s the companies who are profiling us as individuals that we should be concerned about, not the NSA. The ability for a powerful company to know my habits is dangerous to all of us. It isn’t right that these companies can profile me and advertise to entice me, and get me into more trouble than I get into myself. The government protects us from many other harmful things in society: laws against drugs and alcohol, check points for drunk driving, laws to prevent you from being stalked, gun laws, domestic violence and hate crime laws, etc. Don’t we want our government to protect us from the people who know more about us than ourselves?

We have enough precedence in privacy matters that we should be able to aptly apply them to the use of big data. It is illegal to open mail addressed to someone else. Already, genetic company 23andme has been banned in the state of Maryland and more recently it was not approved by the FDA in order to “protect the public”. Courts can rule that stalkers are infringing on a person’s privacy. Our courts protect people from discrimination, be it hate crimes or hiring/firing laws.

Is it time to say that companies cannot search through our email accounts for directed advertising? That profiling a person by knowing where they shop and what they bought at that online store is a form a stalking? And that by knowing information about me from my digital profile, that I cannot be discriminated against, in any manner.

Our government needs to protect us from the bad guys. The bad guys are no longer just foreigners – they are right here in our homeland and they are bigger than just one person or group. It is the companies that leave us without privacy who can be considered an opponent. The companies need additional regulation and oversight, not the constitutionally approved NSA programs.

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One thought on “Right Question, Wrong Focus

  1. Great topic…now let’s address another fundamental issue– the broken security paradigm (not just info security). I too consider the snoopiness of global (not just US) corporations a significant threat, and the collusion of rogue insiders with companies vice governments is predictable, yet also preventable if it is anticipated.

    I remain frustrated that we continue to issue clearances to people on the basis of background investigations to those who either are unreliable to begin with, or who are inclined to “go rogue”.

    This, in an age when a single person’s access to crucially sensitive information has never been greater.

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