Tom Burghardt: Big Data Dynamo: How Giant Tech Firms Help the Government Spy on Us and Gut Privacy!
As the secret state continues trawling the electronic communications of hundreds of millions of Americans, lusting after what securocrats euphemistically call "actionable intelligence," a notional tipping point that transforms a "good" citizen into a "criminal" suspect, the role played by telecommunications and technology firms cannot be emphasized enough. Ever since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began leaking secrets to media outlets about government surveillance programs, one fact stands out: The zero probability these privacy-killing projects would be practical without close, and very profitable "arrangements" made with phone companies, internet service providers and other technology giants. Indeed, a top secret NSA Inspector General's report published by The Guardian, revealed that the agency "maintains relationships with over 100 US companies," adding that the US has the "home field advantage as the primary hub for worldwide telecommunications." Similarly, the British fiber optic cable tapping program, TEMPORA, referred to telcos and ISPs involved in the spying as "intercept partners." The names of the firms were considered so sensitive that GCHQ "went to great lenghts" to keep their identities hidden, including what CNET described as ongoing efforts by the FBI and NSA "to obtain the master encryption keys that Internet companies use to shield millions of users' private Web communications from eavesdropping," along with new government demands that ISPs and cell phone carriers "divulge users' stored passwords," can we trust these firms? And with Microsoft and other tech giants, collaborating closely with "US intelligence services to allow users' communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to allow users' communications to be intercepted, including helping the company's own encryption," can we afford to? Hiding in Plain Sight. Ever since retired union technician Mark Klein blew the lid off AT&T's secret surveillance pact with the US government in 2006, we know user privacy is not part of that firm's business model. The technical source for the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit, Hepting v. AT&T and the author of Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine, Klein was the first to publicly expose how NSA was "vacuuming up everything flowing in the Internet stream: e-mail, web browsing, Voice-Over-Internet phone calls, pictures, streaming video, you name it."We also know from reporting by USA Today, that the agency "has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans" and had amassed "the largest database ever assembled in the world." Three of those data-slurping programs, UPSTREAM, PRISM and X-KEYSCORE, shunt domestic and global communications collected from fiber optic cables, the servers of Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, along with telephone data, including metadata, call content and location grabbed from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon into NSA-controlled databases.