Privacy and freedom on the internet

By Brogan McIver - Guest columnist

How many times have you searched for something on Google and almost immediately after searching, returned to your social media account, only to see multiple ads for exactly what you searched? This phenomenon is alarming, and it isn’t a coincidence. Some people may wonder how their social media accounts could know, with great accuracy, what they are searching on Google, but the answer is clear. The government has been able to track every search you’ve made, conversation you’ve had, and every place you’ve been for 18 years now.

Imagine getting a new puppy. You’ve never had one before so you want to do some research on the best foods, leashes, cages, and toys for your new pet. Afterward, you get on social media hoping to see pictures of your friends puppies, only to see ad after ad about dog food, leashes, and toys. Baffled by this immediate communication between Google and Facebook, you grow a little worried. Lucky for you, in 2013, Edward Snowden, a former employee of the National Security Agency, released thousands of documents concerning government access to your searches and the ads you’re exposed to. According to Gola Romain, author of an article titled, “Digital Advertising and Algorithms,” internet companies have willingly admitted to inventing an algorithm. This algorithm operates with such accuracy, that it can predict what you will be searching according to what your close friends on social media have been searching. This is one reason you receive certain ads on your account, even without searching for those particular items. Even so, if one discusses that they need a new pair of

shoes or a new coat, odds are they will see an ad for either item. That should send an alert that you’re being listened to and it should worry you.

Not only are you being tracked and listened to through searches and ads, but also emails, texts, and calls. Snowden was a huge factor in understanding how the government works with national security. With the release of NSA documents, Americans became more aware of exactly what the government could do and most things will still shock you. According to Lavanya Rathnam, the government and big tech companies have access to phone companies such as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-mobile, from which they can gather and store data on phone calls made, and text messages sent. All of which can be recalled at a later time, if need be. This means any text you’ve ever sent, is stored in huge data bases and can be retrieved at any given moment. Also if you’ve ever made a call to a country outside of the United States, you can believe that the government was more than likely listening in on it. This spying became “legal” after the 9/11 attacks. Any contact with someone from outside the country, will be recorded in hopes to catch any terrorists. For those people who are just calling a friend or a family member to catch up, this becomes very concerning. The government may not deem you a suspect of terrorism or any act of such sort, but they still have the “right” to listen to your calls. The NSA also has the ability to break encryption codes on any computer to access any stored content that there may be. Dishfire was another secret contained within the PRISM documents. Dishfire collects almost 200 million text messages to discover information about locations and even credit card details. The NSA gathered details about 1.6 million border crossings and 800,000 financial transactions. The government is watching you and tracking you.

The final way the government watches you is through the various surveillance cameras at every traffic light, store, and public transportation station. According to Reolink, the average American is caught on camera nearly 70 times per day, depending on where they live and what they do for a living. You are being watched. At every stoplight, there is video evidence of you being there. Every store you enter will have recorded video of you entering,wandering through the store, and leaving. If you take a train, bus, or subway to work, you are on camera. The only way to ensure that one is staying “under the radar,” is to completely isolate themselves in their home, with the blinds drawn, and without any contact with anyone else. Seems bizarre that one has to live that way, just to not be watched. With the growth of new technology, it is only getting easier for the government and social media companies to keep tabs. Social media is a huge advocate for oversharing information. With this widespread use of social media from age ten to sixty, Americans are willingly giving away their right to privacy without even knowing their doing it. With most apps that you download on your smartphone, it will ask if the app can use your location. By clicking yes, that is one way the government and big social media companies can know you exact location. You don’t even have to be using that app at the time. With Snapchat’s new update of the “Snapmap,” users not only allow their friends on Snapchat to see their location at all times, but also the company from which the app was created. Social media users are making it unbelievably easy for the government to know exactly where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re doing. Americans are freely giving away their privacy and making it easier than ever before for the government to spy.

Some people may not see the problem with this. They think the government should be allowed to do whatever they deem necessary because they are the people who watch over us and keep us safe. Other people may find a flaw in that thought process. Although the government can know anything about anyone, track people, listen to every conversation, and put them on a high-suspect list, there is still terrorism in the United States. If the government can presumably know what’s going to happen, before it even happens, then there shouldn’t be bombings or mass killings. The problem with this is that the government cannot pre-arrest anyone. They can listen to the plan of a terrorist, they can know the exact details, but they cannot arrest the person before the act is done. That is why the government spying on Americans for their “safety,” is deceptive. Also, the government knows more about you than you’d think. According to Dennis Anon, they know the basics like your name, social security number, permanent address, and household composition. They also know more personal things like every video you’ve ever watched, every song you’ve ever listened to, every social media post, and everything you’ve ever downloaded on your device. The government is spying on average people who like to use Facebook to get a good laugh and people who stream 80’s music on their way to work. They are storing data of a thirteen year old’s group texts with her best friends. They are listening and recording the phone call of an eighty year old woman to her grandchildren. At what point to Americans say “enough is enough, stop spying on us?”

At exactly what extent is it acceptable for the government to have Americans under such high surveillance? The American people as a whole need to discover a point at which they feel comfortable with government patrol and how far is too far. Many people can accept surveillance cameras in public areas, because according to Kevin McCaney, author of an article titled, “Do surveillance systems reduce crime?” the crime rate in most areas decreased when surveillance cameras were installed and used properly. Those video cameras can help store managers catch stealing, robberies, or any suspicious activity that should be called to attention. Most people find it troubling when the light to brought to the fact that the government has been storing loads of data on you since 2001. Some people who may read this weren’t even alive at that time. One may find it alarming that no matter how clean of a record they may have, they will still be tracked, listened to, and watched. Moving forward, although there is no law preventing the government from spying on Americans, thus it seems inevitable to fight, there is no reason to willingly give up your freedom. Stop using Google Chrome and use “TOR” or “DuckDuckGo,” instead of Google. Those are other search engines that store little to no data about the user. Stop allowing your apps to use your location, you are only making it easier for the government to know where you are at all times. Lastly, stop oversharing on social media. This is not only preventing privacy from the government and big social media companies, but your peers as well. A take away from this is that you should be aware of what the government is doing and the severity to which they are doing it. As American scientist, George Washington Carver once said, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” It is important to stay educated on the topic and how this invasion of privacy will affect you and later generations down the road. Although it is inevitable that the government will be watching you, tracking you, and listening to you, it is unnecessary to live in fear of that. One shouldn’t stay isolated from the world their whole life just because they fear the government’s power.

By Brogan McIver

Guest columnist

Brogan McIver is a student at Edison State Community College.

Brogan McIver is a student at Edison State Community College.