NSA backdoor access and your privacy

In light of recent press reports from the Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers regarding the NSA having “direct, backdoor” access to the servers of Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft and many other internet companies, as well as the revelation that the NSA routinely gets data dumps of all phone call records for at a minimum Verizon (but also probably the other major companies as well), I felt it important to make a clear statement about FORETHOUGHT.net’s position.

FORETHOUGHT.net has never received a direct request for any kind of “blanket” data dump, either of web traffic information, or of phone call records. Neither does the NSA or any other government agency have equipment or connectivity in or on our directly-controlled network for the purpose of snooping our customer’s activities. We believe any such ‘Fishing expedition” would be an unjustifiable violation of your Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search or seizure, and we would fight it. Other, more routine criminal process is handled by an existing policy on our web site – and it requires us to receive a validated search warrant or subpoena meeting the criteria of the Fourth Amendment.

That said, however, as a network company, FORETHOUGHT.net interconnects with many other companies in order to provide our services – including some of the companies mentioned in the press recently. For example, if you place a telephone call almost anywhere in the US, chances are that it goes through a “tandem” facility controlled by one of three companies: AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon. These companies could provide dumps of all your call records to the government without your knowledge or FORETHOUGHT.net’s knowledge.

The same applies to Internet traffic. Google, Microsoft, Facebook collectively control more search requests and any page-views. Even though FORETHOUGHT.net does not provide data for “fishing expeditions”, if you use Google, Microsoft, Facebook or others, you, your search queries might be getting read by government agents right now. We just don’t know – and the denials by these companies seem flimsy indeed.

So what can you do? What can FORETHOUGHT.net do?

In the long term, the very technology that is today being abused by the government is the same technology that can put the government back in its rightful place and secure your privacy – the Internet. Distributed peer-to-peer technologies such as BitTorrent, Friendica, Diaspora, BitCoin and others provide unbreakable encryption as well as distribution – the elimination of any single point the government may use to intercept and control traffic. Peer to peer Voice technologies such as SIP allow endpoints on the Internet to connect and communicate without any central, easily-controllable point on the Internet being used to snoop your traffic – and can be encrypted. For email, use end-to-end encryption such as PGP – easily installable into most modern email clients. Assume that anything you post on a public web site of one of those large companies can be read by anyone, anywhere, regardless of “privacy” settings – and act accordingly.

There is no quick fix – but very smart people out there who care about privacy are working hard on the problem.

What we can do in the meantime, is tell our legislators how disturbing these gross intrusions are to you. Loudly, and often.

What other ideas do you have that we can do to become more proactive?