A Love-Hate Relationship With The Internet

I have a love-hate relationship with the internet. I love the convenience, the information, the entertainment, and the multiple means of communication. On the other hand, I hate the dark corners of the internet where dangers continuously lurk. Every keystroke and every phone conversation can be monitored. My computers and hand-held devices can be hijacked, viruses planted, and passwords, personal information, and money stolen. Every debit or credit card transaction carries the same risks. Popular sites like Ebay are swarming with fraudsters enticing the unsuspecting with fake stories and fake PayPal confirmations. All this can be accomplished by criminals with even minimal sophistication. Speaking of dark places, anyone can post anything, no matter how disgusting or perverted on the internet. Celebrities private pictures can be snatched and posted for the world to see. In this country, we have laws protecting children from the victimization of child pornography. Not so in other parts of the world where many of the websites originate.

Has the internet, which brought a panacea of knowledge and convenience, become a place where hackers can steal our money; control our computers; shut down our businesses; and where an Orwellian government can monitor our private conversations and even our private thoughts and lives?

In the book 1984, George Orwell warns us of a totalitarian future where “Thought Police”, use a “telescreen” to continuously monitor the homes of everyone in the upper and middle classes, leading to the famous line “Big Brother is Watching You”. The telescreen acts as both a camera and a television that conveys propaganda from the political party elite. If the Thought Police see or hear anything conspiratorial or contrary to the interests of the State or its propaganda machine, then the police will be summoned to the home. Enemies of “Big Brother” will be punished harshly: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”

The post-911 political environment completely changed the relationship between government and citizen. The rights of free speech and privacy became greatly diminished. No longer did the government need a search warrant to wiretap your phone. The Bush Administration simply ignored the law and wiretapped phones at its pleasure. When this practice came to light in 2005 it was roundly criticized, but was immediately replaced with an incredibly sweeping and intrusive secret surveillance program.

Edward Snowden exposed this secret multi-billion-dollar program, run by the National Security Agency (NSA). It not only targets foreign governments, foreign leaders (friendly and not-so-friendly), as well as terrorist organizations overseas; but it also monitors every internet connected computer and every cell phone device in the United States. Yes, every internet search, every text message, and every telephone call can be monitored by an NSA employee, or saved forever in a gigantic bank of computers.

Supposedly, access to protected information must be approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court). However, it is not certain that proper warrants have been obtained for all legally required surveillance. And there is also evidence to suggest that the FISA court may simply be a rubber stamp for NSA activities, since it is extremely rare for the Court to deny any government request. It should be noted that all eleven members of the current FISA court have been selected by one man… John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It is therefore likely that all members of the court mirror his philosophy of expansive government powers.

The court, which has been compared to the Supreme Court in it is authority, has been criticized for issuing a secret warrant that ordered Verizon Business Network Services and others to provide a daily feed to the NSA containing “telephony metadata” (comprehensive call detail records) about all calls in its system, including those that occur wholly within the United States — even local telephone calls. This metadata includes: location, phone numbers, length of call, and the identity of both parties to the call. It also came to light that a secret ruling was written by the court holding that vast collections of data on all Americans (even those not connected in any way to foreign enemies) amassed by the NSA does not violate the warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It stated that anyone “suspected” of being involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage, or cyber-attacks, according to the court, may be considered a legitimate target for warrantless surveillance. A broad interpretation of this secret court order potentially gave the government unlimited access to anyone’s information, including you and me. Finally, it is often reported that there has not been one terrorist caught as the result of the multibillion- dollar metadata program. Fortunately, the public outcry against this program has somewhat curtailed its activities.

Lack of Confidence / Loss of American Jobs

Many foreign companies and governments have lost trust in American-based tech firms. Here are a few of the reasons: The NSA infected the computers of network administrators working for a Belgian telecom in order to undermine the company’s routers and siphon mobile traffic; they worked with companies to install backdoors in their products or network infrastructure; they devised ways to undermine encryption; and they intercepted products that U.S. companies sent to customers overseas to install spy equipment. Some specifics include:

· Pro Publica noted that the NSA “actively engages the US and foreign IT industries to covertly influence and/or overtly leverage their commercial products’ designs” to make them more amenable to the NSA’s data collection programs and more susceptible to exploitation by the spy agency.

· The NSA, with help from the CIA and FBI, also has intercepted network routers from U.S. manufacturers like Cisco to install spy tools before they’re shipped to overseas buyers, further undermining customer trust in U.S. companies. Cisco senior vice president Mark Chandler wrote in a company blog post that his and other companies ought to be able to count on the government not interfering “with the lawful delivery of our products in the form in which we have manufactured them. To do otherwise, and to violate legitimate privacy rights of individuals and institutions around the world, undermines confidence in our industry.”

There are obvious and specific results to NSA’s overreach: a canceled contract with Verizon by the German Government, specifically citing the NSA surveillance program. At the time Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, was still understandably furious that the NSA had been listening to her personal telephone calls. The NSA also set up fake internet cafés at the G-20 summit in 2009, and listened to foreign diplomat’s private calls.

Brazil canceled a $4.5 billion fighter jet contract with Boeing and gave it to Saab, again citing the NSA problem. Brazil also dropped Microsoft as a client. In addition, more consumers and corporations are switching “Cloud” services from U.S.-based companies like Dropbox and Amazon Web Services to overseas competitors like Artmotion. In a survey of 300 British and Canadian businesses, 25% of respondents said that they were moving their data outside the U.S. as a result of NSA spying. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has estimated that repercussions from the spying could cost the U.S. Cloud computing industry some $22 to $35 billion over the next few years in lost business. And it could be even worse. The New York Times reported the following: “Forrester Research, a technology research firm, said the losses could be as high as $180 billion, or 25 percent of industry revenue, based on the size of the cloud computing, web hosting and outsourcing markets and the worst case for damages.” [1]. Europe has even talked about establishing its own internet, separate from the U.S. and its NSA tentacles. [2] IBM is spending more than a billion dollars to build data centers overseas to reassure foreign customers that their information is safe from prying eyes in the United States government. [3]

Hacking

Former President Obama compared the Internet to the Wild West. He is right. The federal government’s Office of Personnel Management was hacked and approximately four million current and former employees’ records taken. This type of identity theft is particularly troubling because some of the information could be used to gain access to government computers through fake emails or attachments that could then be used to spread viruses or simply to gain access to classified information. But this is only one of many major hacks: Anthem, 80 million records; JPMorgan Chase Bank, 76 million records; Home Depot, 56 million records, Target 70 million records; Ebay, 145 million records; Sony, 77 million records; TJ Maxx, 94 million records; AOL, 92 million records. And these are just a few of the biggest hits.

I have personally had my Debit Card information stolen and then used to steal over $800 from my account. They spent the money in Las Vegas. It took the bank almost two weeks to credit my account for the loss. I have also been the victim of fraud on Ebay. Yeah, it’s like the Wild West.

If the federal government can’t even protect its own computers, how is it going to protect mine? New technology has almost eliminated outright theft from the major retailers, but 21st century technology has made retail customers more vulnerable. There are changes that could improve security. For example, in the United States, most credit and debit card issuers use a magnetic strip on the back of every card. A card reader at the point of sale sends the data from your card through the internet and instantly receives confirmation that the funds are available. The bank, then automatically lowers your available balance by the amount of the purchase. In the old days, you had to pick up the phone and call the credit card issuer for authorization. Almost everyone either used checks or cash. If you went on a trip, you purchased traveler’s checks.

Banking and the retail world is infinitely more efficient, cost effective; and convenient for customers. We would never want to go back to the old system, but we have the technology to do better. Instead of using a magnetic strip, many domestic credit card issuers, like the Europeans, have switched to a costlier but far safer computer chip, which is embedded in the card. By using computer chips, a thief is no longer able to steal your information from the magnetic strip, so you are able to use your card with more confidence.

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