Thursday 29 August, 2013

The NSA’s Prism Surveillance Program and the Trouble It’s Causing for Businesses

PRISM is a secret mass surveillance program run by the United States National Security Agency. Since the Protect America Act of 2007, the NSA has been running SIGAD US-984XN (as it’s officially called) to spy on both American citizens and foreign nationals.

At least it was secret until former NSA employee and whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed it in 2013, ruining everything for the top brass who say it has prevented innumerable terrorists. Snowden called the program ‘dangerous’ and ‘criminal’ and said that the NSA had overstepped its bounds in a big way.

What PRISM Does

The PRISM program collects confidential third party data that’s supposed to be protected. It is known to have collected this data from websites like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype, AOL, Apple and more. These companies have willingly handed over your private data to the government just in case you’re a terrorist. This is just a partial list of the companies that are known to have handed over data to the NSA and FBI, but it’s generally assumed that all major internet companies have done so.

This is an obvious violation of privacy and constitutional rights. While there has been a public outcry from privacy advocates and civil liberties folks, there is also concern among the business community, especially internationally. Businesses are worried that confidential information it stores or transmits through third parties could fall into the wrong hands.

A Cloudy Forecast

PRISM has already hurt United States cloud service providers. European companies are reluctant to use US-based cloud service providers because of their sensitive business data being made available to the US government. Europeans are not subject to US law and therefore the NSA should have no authority over them, but through PRISM it can spy on them.

The United States is the world’s second largest economy and most of the world’s largest and most influential companies are based there. Most of the world’s communications flow through the United States, and NSA has had access to this data.

It Gets Worse…

As if violating the 4th Amendment rights of US citizens and privacy of even non-US citizens and companies weren’t enough, it gets worse. Documents leaked by Snowden showed an internal audit by the NSA that found the agency had broken its own rules and overstepped legal authority a whopping 2,700 times in the one-year period of April 2011 to March 2012. These documents include communications from higher-ups to NSA employees encouraging them to use vague language when reporting to the US Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

How to Avoid PRISM

With Google, Facebook and so many other large companies handing over your data to the NSA, it’s pretty tough to avoid PRISM’s spy activities, but there are a few things you can do. One is to use a virtual private network instead of cloud service for all business and other sensitive data.

Your company can avoid using popular web services such as Google and AOL and replace them with non-US based equivalents, which there are many of. One that’s gaining in popularity is Japan’s LINE, a messaging service. Since it’s outside of the US, it’s not subject to NSA spying. There are other services as well such as Kik in Canada and KakaoTalk in Korea.

You should also avoid using a smartphone or other Apple mobile device, since Apple is one of the companies complicit in the spying. It’s not clear whether your mobile data is being reported, but there’s a good chance it is.

You can find a thorough list of alternatives on the Prism Break website.

Bob Steele

Bob Steele

Bob Steele is an entrepreneur, software developer, marketer, and author living in the Denver metropolitan area. He’s an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hiking, fishing, boating, and just plain having fun. His interests include games, space, technology, physics, cooking (well eating actually), economics, business, internationalism, and team sports. With over thirty years of professional consulting experience, Bob has been exposed to many diverse business models and has gained a sensible approach to life. Bob’s company, WaveCentric is focused on commerce, marketing, and entertainment related products.

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