For Many, The Government Doesn’t Care Enough To Spy

By Lucy Wyndham

Online privacy has been a hot button issue for decades, with the Snowden controversy bringing the issue to the fore. Privacy concerns are rampant in the American public; one study, conducted by business analysts SAS, found that 73% of Americans had heightened concerns over their online privacy. What is less clear is whether these concerns are well founded, though programs like COINTELPRO and PRISM have shown the capability of the government. Private companies and criminals aside, should the average American be concerned by potential spying at the hands of the authorities? Or are other factors, such as social media, to blame?

What you can believe

Even without the specter of government-led data monitoring, it is generally wise to look after your digital security. Your data has an economic value attached to it; in settlements, Comcast distributed $100 per user data set, according to Tech Crunch, and Google $40 in another case. Private companies have not been vigilant with user data, and as the case involving the San Bernandino attackers highlighted, the government are not opposed to applying pressure to obtain data. It’s important, therefore, to protect yourself by deploying services like VPNs, which are legal in the USA and can help to safeguard your data, and to practice basic online ‘hygiene’ by being cautious with your information.

Will they spy?

The US government absolutely have data gathering and monitoring functions. Whether they deploy these on a mass scale in order to allow spying on any given person is less certain. Hacking attempts and spying are, conversely, more likely to originate outside of the country of origin. In a Daily Beast article, the threat posed by China and Russia to independent citizens and businesses was outlined and found to be a far greater threat than anything posed by the US authorities.

While no solid evidence can be found to show that the government are conducting spy operations, the idea that people are being spied on en masse may be naive. Furthermore, the evidence over how connected devices provide their data is so open that it would suggest secrecy – presumably favored by any low profile surveillance operation – is not upheld to the highest degree. Simon Elvery, of ABC news Australia, showed this through a study he conducted. In the study, he looked at every data request sent and received by his phone and traced it to create a full picture of his communications, demonstrating the openness of identity that any interested party would be exposing.

Public perceptions

Part of the reason many people think that they may be being ‘watched’ can be attributed to the digital age we live in. A Market Watch analysis recently noted several high profile cases of morally gray, but legally sound monitoring in day to day life. In particular, the article highlighted the St Louis cab driver who live streamed his passengers, with no contravention of the law taking place. Arguably, the ever increasing level of social media interaction people have, sometimes without their consent, is leading to a society that is super visible and feels exposed as a result.

Can the government selectively monitor citizens? Yes. Are they doing it on a mass scale? Likely not. The average person has good reason to be suspicious of the authorities and should be comfortable with securing their data. However, the hype over surveillance may not be directed at the right area; instead, it may be time for social media users to look at themselves.