The current situation of privacy in America is this: you have none. Everything you do from attaining a driver's license, paying your taxes, using a cellphone, all require giving the government your information all the way down to your location history based on cell phone GPS. I recently received a call from a company that was inquiring about a credit card and in order to run my credit application, they required very personal information all the way down to the last four digits of my social security.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The issue returned to the spotlight in 2013 when Edward <a href="https://twitter.com/Snowden?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Snowden</a> leaked documents revealing NSA surveillance programs Prism and Upstream. <a href="https://t.co/xQFmbomRjY">https://t.co/xQFmbomRjY</a></p>— Help Edward Snowden (@HelpSnowden) <a href="https://twitter.com/HelpSnowden/status/1011334490327617536?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 25, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Sounds pretty standard right? But before we got too deep into the conversation, the person on the other end asked if I was on a cell phone. I answered yes and the person instantly began reading from a script warning me that cell phone communications can be intercepted and my personal details exchanged over the phone could be at risk. They needed my permission to continue and agree that I was informed of the risks. So even cell phone calls are so susceptible to being intercepted that it has become a liability for companies that handle personal information.
So who are the phantom government agents that are listening in on everything Americans say or type? Well, it starts with the NSA, the National Security Agency. The NSA has been under fire in the past for collection cell phone metadata even of people who were not under investigation or had not commit a crime. This was under the Obama administration by the way. Edward Snowden risked his life to get this information to the American public and it cost him dearly. He always has to look over his shoulder and he can no longer set foot on his homeland for risk of being federally prosecuted for the leaks.
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Congress was pressured into action and put new limits on the information the NSA could collect from Americans and after that the NSA sort of fell out of the news cycle. But it turns out the NSA has been hard at work not just collecting cell phone metadata but basically all digital information about people's identities. So how does the NSA gather so much data on Americans? They do it with the help of private companies contracted to the government. One of those companies lies behind hidden fortified walls in cities across the United States.
They operate inside towering, windowless skyscrapers and concrete fortresses that are built to withstand everything from earthquakes to nuclear attacks. Thousands of unsuspecting citizens pass by these secretive facilities each day but no one knows they exist because their function is not publicly known. These secretive fortresses are linked to the controversial National Security Agency surveillance program. The NSA also works with and utilizes cell phone companies in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
One such example is an AT&T facility containing networking equipment that transports large quantities of internet traffic across the U.S. and the rest of the world. An investigation by The Intercept found some common threads at this AT&T facility indicating it was working closely with the NSA including classified NSA documents, public records, and interviews with several former AT&T employees. The evidence indicates that the buildings are central to an NSA spying initiative that has been monitoring billions of emails, phone calls, and online chats for years.
The NSA works so closely with AT&T that the telecommunications company has become one of the NSA's most trusted partners. NSA documents reveal it values AT&T not just because it "has access to information that transits the nation" but also because it acts as a segway to maintain unique relationships with other phone and internet companies. These relationships are exploited by the NSA for surveillance purposes by commandeering AT&T's massive infrastructure for use as a platform to covertly tap into communications, even those processed by other companies.
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Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice said, "It’s eye-opening and ominous the extent to which this is happening right here on American soil. It puts a face on surveillance that we could never think of before in terms of actual buildings and actual facilities in our own cities, in our own backyards." With hundreds of AT&T-owned properties scattered across the nation, at least eight facilities have been identified by The Intercept's report as serving dual purposes for both the telecommunications company and the NSA. Those in the business know these secretive facilities as "backbone" and "peering" facilities.
Many put forth the argument that "if you aren't doing anything wrong then you have nothing to worry about" but that is a poor way of justifying anti-constitutional overreach by the government. Even though you may not do anything illegal, there is no way of knowing how that information could be used against you in the future. Imagine that a murder occurs and investigators start by doing a search for all cell phones that were inside a 1-mile radius of the murder at the time of the murder and you happened to drive right by the murder scene around the time it occurred. Well, you are not being looked at as a person of interest simply because the NSA was able to prove that you were at the scene of the crime using your cell phone's GPS data. Moral of this story is it is important to hold our government, especially the NSA, accountable for their actions and not let them pull the wool over our eyes.
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