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Be afraid, be very afraid, the NSA has your browsing history, incognito mode too

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 1st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Be afraid, be very afraid. Incognito mode may have kept your wife out of your browsing history, but not the NSA. A story reported by the Guardian reveals the existence of XKeyscore, which tracks individual browsing history.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Guardian exposed the program on Wednesday, as part of its ongoing series of stories based on information leaked to the paper by Edward Snowden. Snowden was an NSA contractor who disclosed thousands of pages of documents and provided interviews to the press.

Specifically, Snowden provided training materials to the Guardian that claims XKeyscore is the "widest reaching" system for gathering intelligence on the internet.

It's a fairly straightforward system, and despite NSA claims to the contrary, it sounds like it is also wide open to abuse. Any analyst can fill out an online form, without any formal review or approval, and within minutes they can see your online history.

Yes, even in incognito mode.

In the words of the training material, XKeyscore reveals "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet."

The implication of course, is that your web browsing history is stored elsewhere besides your computer, and this data can be retrieved fairly easily.

Also included in the program's net are email and even instant messages and chats. The NSA has unfettered access to the servers of Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, YouTube and Skype, and many more, less common web services.

The announcement lends further credibility to Snowden's previous claims that he could wiretap anyone, "from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email."

According to the materials provided by Snowden, the XKeyscore program claims to be responsible for capturing 300 suspected terrorists since it went online in 2008.

Despite the success of the program in capturing suspected terrorists, there is a greater question of whether or not a government agency should have such sweeping power to access the private information of so many people. Despite the fact the NSA claims the program only targets foreign subjects, it has been widely acknowledged that Americans are routinely swept up in the surveillance net.

Any information obtained in that net can subsequently be used, even if it is later understood the subject in an American citizen on American soil.

A further question is, what happens if these resources are harnessed by government officials to influence attitudes and direct policies? What if these programs form the basis of a highly-advanced police state?

Government and NSA officials have decried the leaks, charged Snowden with espionage, and claim the programs do have oversight, even though it isn't public knowledge. They also claim the programs have been effective in stopping terrorists from attacking the United States (on American soil) since 2001.

Congressional leaders have been pressing Obama administration officials for more answers about the program and more transparency. The administration has responded by releasing some documents, but they routinely stop short of explaining everything, saying that to fully reveal how the program operates would compromise its effectiveness.

That limited disclosure also prevents an informed discussion amongst the American people if such a program is consistent with the consent and will of the people.

Normally in government, this is referred to as tyranny because the government is engaging in potentially illegal and likely unethical behavior without the knowledge or consent of the people, to exert influence and control.

Ultimately, the notion of privacy on the internet is dead, or at least it should be. All Americans should be warned that every activity performed on the web is cataloged and stored where it can be retrieved. For now, it appears that only NSA agents seeking out terrorists have any interest in your information, but given how human nature works, it is probably only a matter of time before somebody decides to use your personal data to gain power or make money.

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