Privacy vs Intelligence Gathering: What You Need To Know!

several cctv cameras spying on americans

The right to privacy and to what extent it is sacrificed in the pursuit of security for the masses is a debate almost as old as the country. The debate is a valid one worth revisiting time to time since the boundaries are continually tested every few decades.

Wartime is usually the proving ground for new intrusions against the lines of individual privacy. Many rights were curtailed during World War II but the public supported and understood the reasons given the circumstances facing the world at the time. It was for the greater good. By the 60’s public sentiment challenged these liberties taken against privacy and the government pulled back. War is the impetus behind the current incursion into Americans’ privacy.

The War on Terror saw the passage of the Patriot Acts under George W. Bush which extended the “legal” capacities of intelligence agencies to press against (or even break) the privacy boundaries for the sake of gathering data on potential terrorist threats. The debates carried over into the current Congress and Administration, surging on a wave of criticism against recent NSA data mining activities. When all is said and done the essence of the debate is rooted in balancing the weight of individual privacy against the security of the country as a whole.

The situation against which the current debate is set is those who wish to do harm upon our country, the terrorists, are utilizing the same networks of communication that every average person uses on a day to day basis. Intelligence agencies argue they need access to various types of data within these means of communication to thwart attacks before they happen. Isn’t it worth allowing this access if the result is stopping the next 9/11 or another Oklahoma City bombing or one more mass shooting? How much individual privacy are we willing to give up in order to improve the accuracy of intelligence data? And is the value of said data worth whittling down a cherished right? This question, in particular, is bolstered by findings that the recent NSA telephone metadata searches produced little actionable information and realizations the same information could have been acquired through existing channels.

Now, one side of the debate says, there is no value worth endangering people’s rights. Privacy trumps all fears. End of debate.

Another argument reasons if you’re not planning anything nefarious then you have nothing to worry about. The government is not going to be interested in your next family barbecue or if a friend is on the fence about divorcing her husband or what time your next physical is. The mundanity of everyday life, of the typical individual conversation, is not something the government intelligence agencies are going to care about. So why worry? Now, the government might not care about the daily habits of your life but corporations like Google, national department store chains and online retailers, they are interested.

There is plenty of anger, fear and protest against government access to information about average people to go around. But where is this same outrage over for-profit corporations monitoring individual habits to market their products? Do you ever find yourself wondering why, after a quick search for freeze-dried food on Amazon or water filter reviews on Google, ads for these products begin following you all over the internet? Or how do you receive reward coupons in the mail from the grocery store for products you usually buy? Is this not slightly disturbing?

Sure, it’s a little creepy how these large businesses tailor their marketing directly to you but this can be chalked up to information you gave out voluntarily, right? Yes, aspects of this practice do fall under the category freely given. You signed up for the rewards program. You did willingly shop online logged into a Google or Amazon account. But what about the information that isn’t considered voluntary, information that you don’t expect to be held for later analysis? How often do any of us use debit or credit cards to make everyday purchases? Today’s society uses these thin plastic strips for pretty much every monetary transaction. When a card is swiped at a large department store that information is held and stored along with what items were bought and customer demographics. This data is then mined to provide statisticians the means to predict what you will buy and when you will need it.

An astonishing illustration of this is the case of the department store chain, Target, revealing to father his teenage daughter was pregnant before she could tell him. Target had tracked and analyzed the girl’s purchases and concluded she was expecting and assigned her a “pregnancy prediction score”. This was then used to send her coupons for products she would need at various stages of her pregnancy. Target sent these coupons to her home where she lived with her parents, as is the case with most teenagers. Her father opened the mail and, after heated discussions with store management about why his teen daughter was receiving coupons for cribs and maternity clothes, he found out she was actually pregnant.

If corporations are so adept at predicting a teen pregnancy, is it not somewhat scary to think about what else they know about you? About your kids… or the family dog? While the thought of the NSA knowing what telephone number you dialed on the 8th of October, 2013 might elicit furious anger, why do we give large corporations a pass when it comes to our most intimate, personal information? It’s an interesting contradiction to say the least. Please don’t take this a dismal of government surveillance of the public. The government can access the same information corporations gather on you with a judge’s order. The point is, should that much personal information even be out there for the taking? These companies have been hacked numerous times opening their customers up to identity theft and financial harm. This should be reason enough to limit what personal financial information corporations are allowed to keep.

Protecting Yourself

Whether you find yourself motivated to guard against government privacy intrusions, corporate intelligence gathering or keeping hackers out of your business, there are a number of steps you can take to limit what personal information is even available.

Limit social media

Be aware of what you share on these sites and who is allowed to view the information you do share. This guards against information tapping by the casual observer. But websites like Facebook and Google live on that data. Consider eliminating social media use and utilize private browser functions.

Privatize browsing

As touched on above, utilize private browser options when searching the internet. Learn how to turn off tracking cookies and remove those that make it through. Become knowledgeable how mobile apps track your activity and make sure you are logged off of website accounts when they’re not in use as they can continue tracking your movements. This will limit some of the omnipresent internet tracking.

Credit Purchases

Limit credit or debit purchases. While this may be nearly impossible in today’s world of online shopping and online bill pay, you can curtail some of what is released out into the worldwide web. Pay with cash at local stores. Avoid reward programs which monitor shopping habits. Granted these programs do have benefits that can save you money, especially if you’re prepping on a budget, so choose wisely. The government can help by enforcing privacy and transparency laws and consumer rights.

Reigning in Government

While there is a need for some secrecy when it comes to national security, there are limits. Continually seeking out that balance between privacy rights and the need for intelligence in an ever-changing, digital world is the biggest challenge. Take part in civil discourse on this topic, elect representatives who share your concerns for transparency but can also find that balanced ground where security is effective and rights are preserved.

Credit Purchases

Limit credit or debit purchases. While this may be nearly impossible in today’s world of online shopping and online bill pay, you can curtail some of what is released out into the worldwide web. Pay with cash at local stores. Avoid reward programs which monitor shopping habits. Granted these programs do have benefits that can save you money, especially if you’re prepping on a budget, so choose wisely. The government can help by enforcing privacy and transparency laws and consumer rights.

Reigning in Government

While there is a need for some secrecy when it comes to national security, there are limits. Continually seeking out that balance between privacy rights and the need for intelligence in an ever-changing, digital world is the biggest challenge. Take part in civil discourse on this topic, elect representatives who share your concerns for transparency but can also find that balanced ground where security is effective and rights are preserved.

About US Preppers

Robert and wifeWelcome and thanks for visiting! My name is Robert and our mission at US Preppers is to help you prepare for emergencies or disasters before they happen. As a family man and father of two boys, I am concerned about the future of our modern way of life. We know things can happen and we are not going to be complacent and let society dictate our survival.

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