The Eye in the Sky: Why the NSA Needs Facebook and Google
By Daniel Zeevi
It turns out when it comes to snooping on the affairs of citizens’ in the digital era, Big Brother is just an amateur compared to his Facebook and Google brethren. Sure the NSA has been collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers and can tap into pretty much anything they’d like to. But the NSA doesn’t have the resources and manpower it takes to monitor all the conversations and activity that take place.
Facebook and the NSA
Facebook alone has 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide. In the past six months the U.S. government has requested access to between 9,000 to 10,000 Facebook user profiles, resulting in a total of 19,000 related requests. Facebook released these numbers hoping to bring more transparency to these privacy issues, noting that only a fraction of 1% of Facebook users were subject to any type of state, local, or federal U.S. government request (including criminal and national security-related requests). But as more and more users register for and spend time on the site, Facebook becomes more of a likely destination for authorities to seek user information, and Facebook provides the channel for collecting a lot of interesting character data.
Google and the NSA
If you think about it, Google is the most well-positioned establishment in the history of humankind to ever collect data on us. Everywhere you go on the internet, including what you search for, along with everything you do on your mobile device and Google Chrome is tracked. As the funny internal Microsoft Chrome Parody leaked video suggests, Google tracks us to monetize our info and in turn target us with relevant ads; Google is an advertising company, after all. But, while making all that ad money, Google also just happens to be watching everything you do including where you are, what you search, who you call, and who you email, chat with, are friends with, and much more.
So when the NSA needs information about you, who are they going to call? According to Google’s Transparency Report, it turns out they called on Google 8,438 times last year asking for permission to see users’ data, and 88% of those requests were granted. So while the NSA may not have a “back door” to Google’s servers, it does have legal access to Google’s data. And this data happens to detail just about everything you do, and everywhere you go. I’m not looking to make a case here that the NSA or other government agencies shouldn’t have a right to see information to best protect the greater good of its nation, but I am suggesting that NSA needs Google for that data!
Besides feeding the NSA user information upon request, Google also plans to provide internet access to the entire world with their “Project Loon.” If Google could tap into the Internet Service Provider bracket, which would then grant them a firehose of global user data irrespective of device or browser used, some conspiracy theorists could point out that this would be the last step Google needed to take before achieving world dominance online!
Which organization, government or company, do you feel has the most access to our data?