July 16, 2013

Prism and your privacy

US whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s recent Prism revelations have alerted the world to the unprecedented scale of the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) secret data trawling. Implemented in this leak is our own Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), whose access to Prism has allowed them to view the user communications data of millions of UK residents.

Prism, a surveillance system ran by the NSA, has been revealed to have access to the emails, videos, photos, voice calls, social networking activity, logins and other data from a range of US internet firms, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype and Apple.

These revelations have reignited a long-running debate about the nature of data trawling and secret internet surveillance, leading to an influx of internet-wide speculation and commentary on the rights of free citizens of the internet age.

This is, as we’re promptly reassured, all part of essential anti-terrorism measures and “for our own safety” and in the words of Barack Obama, the behaviour of intelligence organisations everywhere. But is this a more serious breach of privacy? More importantly, is it enough to make us change our own internet habits?

Armed with the basic facts we can see how even just one of the US firms accessed by Prism could be a goldmine for user data trawling. Used by 1.1 billion users worldwide every month (approx. 26 million of those are UK users) Facebook has become a way of life for many internet users who willingly and openly share personal information with friends, acquaintances and even strangers.

Facebook defiantly reassures its users of its efforts to maintain high standards of security, encouraging White Hat hackers to scour the site and check the code for glitches and other loopholes. Awarded for their responsible disclosure, Facebook’s reliance on external security hackers is continually threatened by members who occupy the opposite spectrum, selling their skills and services to cybercriminal gangs and organisations for criminal gain.

One of oneagency.co’s own ex-developers, Jack Whitton, now sits high on the Facebook White Hat hall of fame for uncovering a bug – since been fixed – which allowed hackers to spoof Facebook’s text messaging verification system into sending a password reset code for a private account.

But, in light of the latest Prism revelations, is the reassurance of a partnership with White Hat hackers enough? Instead the leaks bring into question our reliance on firms such as Facebook to protect our privacy, who freely allow organisations such as Prism and subsequently the NSA and GCHQ, to access and view our internet behaviour and personal data.

Will you be reviewing your own relationship with social networking? Or, do you view the secret data trawling as a part of necessary and acceptable anti-terrorism measures?

We’d love to know what you think.

If you’d like to talk to us about your digital presence and best practice call us now on 01603 252555.