Obama Will Rein in the NSA ?
President Barak Obama announced on January 17 that he would work to end the mass collection of American telephone data. The President announced the changes following leaks from Edward Snowden that revealed the data collection programs being undertaken by the NSA were much broader and more invasive than previously revealed and following outrage on the part of international leaders who were targets of the program.
While the President did address the collection of phone records, he did not address the other forms of data collection that have caused so much controversy. Phone records are only one part of the scandal, which also affected Internet users. At this time, some of the largest tech companies in the world that have been subject to government spying have not been able to discuss what has and is going on with their data. Privacy advocates and, in fact, the majority of people asked in poll after poll have called for more transparency and less intrusion.
The Right Direction
While bringing the phone spying program under control is a step in the right direction, it only begins to address the depth and severity of the problems with NSA spying. Another step in the right direction would be allowing Google, Microsoft and other huge tech companies to reveal to what extent they’ve been asked, forced or secretly spied upon as part of being drawn into the government program.
Many privacy advocates recommend the repeal of the Patriot Act, passed in the wake of September 11. The Patriot act vastly increased the power of the government to engage in warrantless spying and reduced the requirements for transparency. The FISA court, which is supposed to oversee secret government spying programs and ensure that they comply with the constitution has been roundly criticized as nothing more than a rubber stamp for the governments. Part of the Presidents reforms would include making sure the public has an advocate in those hearings, but the public will still have to take the government at its word.
In the Meantime
Using a VPN can reduce the odds that user data will be caught up in a government net. Making sure that the VPN is friendly to privacy interests—minimal if any logging, not offering information on users without a warrant, etc.—is imperative to getting the most out of these services. For users storing information on cloud services, reassessing the company being used and ensuring that they have strict privacy standards is also highly recommended.