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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It's 1984 and George Orwell was right

All the latest revelations from the deep, dark world of the spies in the United States government has made me rethink many of my assumptions about Internet privacy.

Here's what has changed. We are in the era of Big Data with all the cheap storage and fast networks proliferating around the world. Combine that with the Patriot Act, the War on Terror, FISA courts and the NSA monitoring "foreign" communication and we now have a terrifying witches brew of capabilities that could make the US government come after any one of us when we least expect it.

A decade ago I was unconcerned about anyone monitoring my daily activities in the Internet. I figured with all the trillions of data packets flying around the Internet, someone would have to be particularly interested in me to find out what I was doing. I assumed that if I was the target of a criminal investigation, then a law enforcement agency could get a subpoena and my ISP or email provider would give up the goods. I assumed that without a subpoena, all of the bits I generated on the Internet would fly off into the proverbial bit bucket when I was done with them.

Now, it would be a mistake to think that the government needs a subpoena to check up on me. What seems to have happened over the last 10 years is the government has developed the ability to collect large amounts of real-time data from the Internet and store it in huge data warehouses. They may be scanning real-time for keywords or nefarious activities, but the real scary part is that they could go back and see what data was going back and forth to Google or Yahoo at any point in time.

That means that if I were to come under the scrutiny of the government for any reason, it is possible that they could go back and look at traffic attributed to me and look for anything even slightly illegal or improper.

What does that really mean for me and you today? We don't know because all of the Government's spying capabilities have yet to be revealed. We have to assume that we are only starting to get the facts. So, it's probably worse than what we know now.

If you are concerned about the government collecting your Internet data, what can you do? I don't have any answers yet, but there are implications for how we treat cloud computing and whether one really wants to put your entire life online. Encryption may help, but that may also be a red flag in the data stream that just makes the government more interested in your data.

For me, I am willing to wait for more information before I recommend pulling back from the Internet or discontinuing the use of cloud-based services. Hopefully, democracy will work in the United States and we will get some public debate on this subject that may translate into further disclosures. I would like to see a rollback of some of the legislation that has permitted these abuses, such as the Patriot Act.

But, things will never the same. My naivete about the government's capabilities has been replaced the realization that while they probably aren't watching me today, they can go see what I have been doing for the last five years with the click of a mouse.

In other words, it is 1984 and George Orwell was right.

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