Should You Be Afraid of the NSA?

We have all heard the name Edward Snowden, the notorious whistleblower of the NSA's operations. Back in 2013, Snowden teamed up with Glenn Greenwald to expose all of the secret details of the NSA's operations, and this information got people thinking...should I be afraid of the NSA?

Everyone should be a little bit afraid of government spying, but how much should we worry?

After 9/11, most of the anti-government spying issues of the past fell to the wayside because many people were fine with giving up a little privacy for more security.

That’s when the Patriot Act kicked in and gave the government a lot more snooping and spying power. However, most of us don't realize, understand or in some cases, even care, about what this looks like. To sum it up, the government has access to a lot of information, from the texts that you send your mom to the private pics that you send your spouse. At the same time, they also have access to information that may save lives. However, in some ways, some say this surveillance practice has decreased our security.

One thing the NSA is doing that is worrying is that they are attempting to undermine and weaken international encryption standards, which are the same standards that are supposed to protect us from hackers and identity thieves. Why are they doing this? Because it makes it easier to look at the email, text and phone records of foreigners who are communicating with each other and those in the US.

When terrorist groups like ISIS communicate, unnoticed, with encrypted off the shelf apps that can be downloaded from iTunes, then the government realizes they are at a disadvantage. When the news reports about “terrorist chatter,” that usually means the government intercepted communications that weren’t meant to be heard.

  And in some cases, that chatter results in arrests thwarting a terrorist plot. Encryption defeats the intercepted chatter.

Currently, the NSA cannot collect bulk phone records for American's, but there are ways around this. For example, if an American citizen is in Mexico and call someone in the US, the NSA does not have authority to record it...but they also CAN record it because of the SOMALGET program. Through this program, the NSA has the power to sweep every telecommunications conversation made in Mexico, Kenya, Bahamas, the Philippines and elsewhere.

This is only one of the programs the NSA has that allow them to collect information. DISHFIRE, for instance, allows them to collect webcam chats and Code Traveler, that allows the NSA to track cell phone locations, and then figure out who a person interacts with. In theory, however, these programs are only supposed to target foreigners, but it doesn't always work that way.

All of this sounds insane to anyone who wants to keep the government out of their business, and also know that the government has used this information to track the activities of US-based activist groups, and used it to crack down on the Occupy Movement. However, there is a question about what the ramifications are for those who are not very political or for those who don't care if the government is going through their information.

At this point, we don't know, and that is why this is scary.

Here's the deal. Let's say you are a criminal. The government can and will use this NSA evidence against you, and they are within their right to do so. However, if you are like most of us and not a criminal, then your information is potentially being seen by tens of thousands of people in the intelligence community.

You say “I have nothing to hide, so I’m not worried.” OK, but let’s say you are a journalist and need to do some research on terrorists for an article, or are a student working on a school paper. You search “How to Join ISIS,” then “How to build a bomb” then “purchase AR15” etc. These search terms might get the attention of the government, put you on a list, and incriminate you.

Do you trust them? Do you trust they can separate the good from the bad?

The NSA is made up of people. People are flawed. Your idiot neighbor is comparable to the quality and character of what makes up many government agencies and corporations.

It isn't as far-fetched as it may sound to wonder if your kids didn't get into military school because someone in the intelligence community may not like your politics. They have this information, and just because the rule is NOT to use the information, this doesn't mean they are following the rules.

So, it all comes down to this. Are you afraid of the NSA? Am I afraid of the NSA? I will be honest. I think we should at least be cautious. I am worried about this, and it is something that you should probably worry about, too.