So President Obama is finally ready to do something about the government storage of our phone records, preparing legislation for Congress that would partially change the National Security Agency’s bulk collection. Except he’s missing something much more important: all of the other, much more revealing data we generate simply by living our daily lives. What about all of the other data that internet companies buy and sell, and that yet more companies create and sell without even telling us – indeed, all of the rest of a data retention program that you and I helped build?
Of course we should be skeptical of the new NSA laws – of government objectives and Congressional fears and loopholes the intelligence community will inevitably bake in. Obama says he needs “to win back the trust … of ordinary citizens”. But we can’t even begin to feel reassured about the long-term trajectory of surveillance in America, not when so much of our ordinary communications don’t take place on the usual phone-record system at all.
Because of course we store our email in the the cloud. Of course our information is moving to new networks and multiple devices. Of course we willingly log in to Google to make our lives more convenient: faster commutes! Instant weather! And for that convenience, internet companies make vague promises on security but always reserve the right, as Microsoft did so notoriously last week, to snoop when it suits their own interests.