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How Has The U.S. Government Been Getting User Data From Major Internet Companies?

Prism****IMPORTANT UPDATE****  Apparently the big Internet companies are not as “innocent” in all of this as they originally led us to believe.  So this additional information changes some of the conclusions that I reached in my original article.  It appears that some of the biggest Internet companies have been cooperating with the government in this data collection effort at least to a certain extent.  The following is from an article in the New York Times that describes how the U.S. government has been getting user data from major Internet companies…

The companies that negotiated with the government include Google, which owns YouTube; Microsoft, which owns Hotmail and Skype; Yahoo; Facebook; AOL; Apple; and Paltalk, according to one of the people briefed on the discussions. The companies were legally required to share the data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. People briefed on the discussions spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited by law from discussing the content of FISA requests or even acknowledging their existence.

In at least two cases, at Google and Facebook, one of the plans discussed was to build separate, secure portals, like a digital version of the secure physical rooms that have long existed for classified information, in some instances on company servers. Through these online rooms, the government would request data, companies would deposit it and the government would retrieve it, people briefed on the discussions said.

****END OF UPDATE****

The U.S. government has been hacking in to the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple and has been taking their user data without their knowledge or consent.  According to the Washington Post, the information being stolen includes “audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs”.  This program is known as PRISM, and it was first revealed by the Washington Post on Thursday.  Since the story broke, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has admitted that PRISM exists and so has Barack Obama.  The Washington Post initially claimed that all of the Internet companies were willingly handing over their user data to the government.  Now we are learning that is NOT true.  In fact, all of the Internet companies named in the Washington Post story have denied knowing about PRISM or ever giving the federal government permission to directly access their servers.  So this means that the U.S. government has been stealing massive amounts of user data from the largest Internet companies in the world without their permission.  Of course this is highly illegal and it directly violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but you can bet that the Obama administration is going to do everything that it can to get the courts to “make it legal”.  Hopefully the revelation of this program will be enough to get the American people to realize that we are rapidly being transformed into a Big Brother police state that is descending into tyranny.

Barack Obama has described the systematic gathering of cell phone records and the Internet spying that the federal government has been doing as “modest encroachments” that we should all just accept as part of the price of living in a modern world, but if we allow the government to get away with this, where will it end?

Even if we had a total “Big Brother” society where the government watched everything that we did 24 hours a day, bad people would still do bad things.  There would still be terror attacks and great tragedies.  No matter how much the government intrudes into our lives, it can never guarantee us 100% safety.

Those that founded the United States understood this.  They did not want this country to be turned into a police state.  That is why they guaranteed us some very important protections in the Bill of Rights.  If the government wants to do a search, there are some very important procedures that must be followed first.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration appears to believe that the Constitution does not apply to user data on the Internet.  The NSA is apparently hacking into Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple and taking whatever they want without ever getting permission from those companies.

You can bet that there are some very, very angry executives at those companies right now that are trying to figure out how to respond to these revelations.

All of these companies have vehemently denied that they were involved.  At this point, there is no reason to doubt their very strong denials.

For example, the following is what 

Dear Google users—

You may be aware of press reports alleging that Internet companies have joined a secret U.S. government program called PRISM to give the National Security Agency direct access to our servers. As Google’s CEO and Chief Legal Officer, we wanted you to have the facts.

First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.

Second, we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process. Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users’ data are false, period. Until this week’s reports, we had never heard of the broad type of order that Verizon received—an order that appears to have required them to hand over millions of users’ call records. We were very surprised to learn that such broad orders exist. Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.

Finally, this episode confirms what we have long believed—there needs to be a more transparent approach. Google has worked hard, within the confines of the current laws, to be open about the data requests we receive. We post this information on our Transparency Report whenever possible. We were the first company to do this. And, of course, we understand that the U.S. and other governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety—including sometimes by using surveillance. But the level of secrecy around the current legal procedures undermines the freedoms we all cherish.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has issued a similar denial.  He insists that Facebook never even heard of PRISM until Thursday…

I want to respond personally to the outrageous press reports about PRISM:

Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers. We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn’t even heard of PRISM before yesterday.

When governments ask Facebook for data, we review each request carefully to make sure they always follow the correct processes and all applicable laws, and then only provide the information if is required by law. We will continue fighting aggressively to keep your information safe and secure.

We strongly encourage all governments to be much more transparent about all programs aimed at keeping the public safe. It’s the only way to protect everyone’s civil liberties and create the safe and free society we all want over the long term.

So how has the U.S. government been getting this user data if they do not have the cooperation of these large Internet companies?

They have been stealing it.

Is this the kind of society that we want to have?  Do we really want the government to be free to hack into the servers of Internet companies and take user data any time that it wants?

And guess what?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the NSA has also been gathering massive amounts of credit card data as well…

The National Security Agency’s monitoring of Americans includes customer records from the three major phone networks as well as emails and Web searches, and the agency also has cataloged credit-card transactions, said people familiar with the agency’s activities.

So if you ever bought something embarrassing with a credit card, there is a very good chance that the NSA knows about it.

If you don’t like where all of this is headed, then now is the time to stand up and say something about it.

Sadly, the truth is that most of our politicians see absolutely nothing wrong with our current system.  The following is what Barack Obama said in response to the recent revelations about the NSA

“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society,” he said. “I think that on balance, we have established a policy and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable with.”

Do you feel comfortable with the fact that the NSA is hacking into major Internet companies and stealing their user data?

I know that I definitely am not.

I think that the journalist that originally broke the story about how the government is systematically gathering our phone records summed up what many of us are feeling right now pretty well

“There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal, and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity, not just in the United States but around the world,” charged Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for the British newspaper “The Guardian,” speaking on CNN. “That is not hyperbole. That is their objective.”

What do you think?

Is all of this government spying good for America or bad for America?

Please feel free to share your opinion by posting a comment below…

 

Nothing Is Stable Anymore

The world is becoming a very unstable place, and the pace at which things are changing all around us has become absolutely mind-numbing.  In fact, change has become one of the only constants in today’s world.  Once upon a time, people in the United States could actually make 20 or 30 year plans and feel confident about achieving them.  But now, nothing is stable anymore.  The financial crisis showed us that some of the biggest corporations on the globe can collapse in a single day.  The events of the past few weeks have shown us that entire governments can be brought down in a single week.  We live in a world where there are now very few “guarantees” that you can count on.  One of the only things that is guaranteed is that technology and information will continue to grow at exponential speeds.  This year, the total amount of information produced on electronic devices around the globe is projected to be more than a zettabyte.  A zettabyte is equivalent to one sextillion bytes.  In other words, imagine a one with more than 21 zeroes following it.

Many of the things that we take for granted today didn’t even exist a few short years ago.  Facebook has only been with us since 2004.  YouTube has only been with us since 2005.  Can you imagine a world where those two websites did not exist?

We live in a world of information overload.  Once upon a time it would have been possible to go to sleep for a decade and wake up and everything would still be pretty much the same.  But today if you were to do that you would be in for a case of severe culture shock.

Do you remember when you could buy a set of encyclopedias and the information in them would still be good a decade or two later?

Well, things do not work that way anymore.

In fact, most of the articles on this website will be obsolete a month from now.

In today’s world, you really have to think twice before you say that something is “not possible”.

A few months ago, it was absolutely inconceivable that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would declare to the world that he has “spent enough time serving Egypt“.

Yet here we are.

One week the government of Tunisia seemed perfectly stable and the next week it was toppled.

Do any of you out there still think that you can make realistic “plans for the future” in today’s world?

Once upon a time in America, many of us were taught that if we worked really hard in school we could get a great job with a great company.  We were promised that if we were faithful to that company for 30 or 40 years that we would be treated fairly and given a good pension.

Well, in today’s world you might as well crumple up that plan and throw it into the wastebasket.

There is no such thing as a stable job anymore.  Businesses are coming into existence and going out of existence faster than ever before.  Today, one out of every four Americans workers has been with their empl0yer for less than a year.

Most Americans still don’t really understand that they are now part of a global economy.  They keep thinking that things were the way they used to be.  They keep thinking that the U.S. economy is invincible.

Well, those days are long gone.  The United States is being deindustrialized at lightning speed.  Tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities and millions of jobs have been sent overseas.  China, once a complete economic backwater, is now kicking the crap out of us on the global economic stage.

Our financial system is certainly on incredibly shaky ground.  Will any of us ever forget what happened in 2008?

Do any of us actually believe that it can’t happen again?

Our health care system is also incredibly unstable.  Today, 46 million Americans have absolutely no health insurance.  That means that 46 million Americans are just one major injury or illness away from financial ruin with no protection whatsoever.

Not that those that actually have health insurance are protected.  According to a report published in The American Journal of Medicine, medical bills are a major factor in more than 60 percent of the personal bankruptcies in the United States.  Of those bankruptcies that were caused by medical bills, approximately 75 percent of them involved individuals that did have health insurance.

So just because you have health insurance does not mean anything.  One bad accident or one really bad disease and you could be totally wiped out.

Isn’t that comforting?

But the truth is that our entire economy is on the verge of total collapse.

World famous investor Harry Schultz recently published the last issue of his legendary financial newsletter.  After 45 years, the following is how Schultz summed up the economic collapse that we are now facing….

“Roughly speaking, the mess we are in is the worst since 17th century financial collapse. Comparisons with the 1930’s are ludicrous. We’ve gone far beyond that. And, alas, the courage & political will to recognize the mess & act wisely to reverse gears, is absent in U.S. leadership, where the problems were hatched & where the rot is by far the deepest.”

David Stockman, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under Ronald Reagan was quoted by Schultz as saying the following about how desperate things are about to become….

“Get some gold, beans, water, anything that Bernanke can’t destroy. Ron Paul is right. We’re entering a global monetary conflagration. If a sell-off of U.S. bonds starts, it will be an Armageddon.”

Millions of Americans have become “preppers” in recent years as they have come to realize that our economy is headed down a very dark road.

But sadly, the reality is that the vast majority of Americans are not prepared for any kind of economic or natural disaster.  As this week has shown us, just the threat of a major snow storm can wipe out store shelves in a single day.

So what would this country look like if a major disaster fundamentally changed life in America and suddenly people were desperate for food and supplies?

It is a frightening thing to think about.

As the pace of change has accelerated dramatically, the U.S. government and other governments around the world have responded by trying to get a tighter grip on everyone and everything.

To get on an airplane in the United States today, you either have to allow a security goon to use a scanner to look over your completely exposed body, or you have to allow a security goon to feel up all of your private areas with the fronts of his or her hands.

Not only that, but the U.S. government has now deployed VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) teams to set up security checkpoints at bus terminals, subway stations and on major highways.

The America that so many of us once loved is rapidly disappearing.

But it is not just our man-made systems that are rapidly changing.  Something seems to be happening to the entire planet.  Flooding of biblical proportions has hit Australia, Brazil, China and Pakistan over the past 12 months.  Scorching heat caused massive crop failures all over Russia last summer.  Record-setting cold temperatures and snowfalls all over the northern hemisphere have scientists scratching their heads.  On top of everything else, mass deaths of birds and fish are suddenly being reported all over the globe.

Even the crust of the earth is becoming increasingly unstable.  Did you see that volcano go off in Japan the other day?  Over the past two years it seems like volcanoes have been suddenly erupting all over the world.

Not only that, but sinkholes have become an absolute epidemic all over the planet.  Some of these sinkholes have been so large that they have swallowed entire apartment buildings.

In addition, it seems like there is a magnitude 6 or magnitude 7 earthquake somewhere in the world almost every day now.  They have become so common that the mainstream media barely even takes notice of them anymore unless one happens near a very populated area.

None of us really knows what the world is going to look like ten years from now.  What will the “new” Facebooks and YouTubes be?  Will Ben Bernanke’s reckless money printing destroy our economy by then?  Will our U.S. dollars still be of any value ten years from now?  Will there even still be a U.S. dollar?

Will we still be able to feed most of the people in the world by 2011?  Will shortages of food, water and oil start driving people crazy?  Could some amazing energy discovery completely transform society?

Who will be the president of the United States?  Will there even be a president of the United States?  Will war have erupted in the Middle East by that point?  Will the United States be in another war by then?

The truth is that things are changing so fast that it is hard to even come up with the right questions to ask.  The world is going to change faster this year than it did last year.  In 2012 the pace of change will be even faster.

So buckle up and hold on tight because this is going to be one wild ride.

For much more on how incredibly fast the pace of change is in our modern society, check out the video posted below.  It is entitled “Did You Know?” and it has been viewed more than 12 million times on YouTube….

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