News of the Tweet: The Internet is an Open Book and the NSA is a Peeping Tom

Communications, keywords and kooks

You are being watched. Every site you visit, every email you type, every meal you photograph is being filed away by your government. It should come as no surprise that this happening, the internet is just a giant digital Rolodex. There’s a lot of information swirling around now that we are almost entirely internet integrated. To make the Web work there needs to be channels and hubs where information is transferred, and it's at these places—owned and controlled by what we thought were corporation that were independent of the state—that everything can be recorded.

However, this month a pair of game-changing reports have revealed the truly stunning amount of data the federal government is collecting about your personal life and it seems to have surprised the kinds of people that believed that the internet is made of sugar and spice and all things nice.

On Tuesday, June 5, The Guardian newspaper revealed that the National Security Agency was requiring Verizon to turn over the metadata for all of the millions of phone calls that have been made over the past two months. It's not exactly phone tapping but it’s close.

Then, the Washington Post revealed that ever since 2007, at least nine of the top technology companies—including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and Facebook—were knowingly allowing the NSA to mine all of its user data in a program ominously called PRISM.

So, anyone inside of the USA who has ever dialed, texted or used a cell phone or land line over the last seven years, the metadata is stored somewhere in NSA’s servers, where the government has access to every communication you have completed. If you have a Facebook profile, Gmail or Yahoo! account they are on file. If you have used Skype or Google Hangout then those conversations have been collated. Every single search query on Google or Bing can be followed and the search history looked into.

It should be noted that the NSA isn’t recording the cell phone conversations itself. It isn't listening in on your communications, we aren't all special enough for that treatment. Instead it’s keeping the metadata, which includes pretty much everything else: the time the call was made, its duration, who the call was made to, etc. The vast majority of that data just sits there until the NSA wants to dip into the data pool to investigate someone or something in particular.

It does, however, sift through communications looking for certain words or phrases. Last year the Department of Homeland Security released a list of 370 keywords that act as a sort of trip-wires that activate all manner of eyes to peer further.

Vice, being Vice, wants to play a game with the NSA and have created a phrase generator that produces keyword-loaded tweets that are sure to get the attention of someone in Washington.

Ah, what joy it is to stand back and chuckle as the USA is being such a bastard to itself.

However, the Guardian almost reported that at least six European Union nations have struck a deal with the United States to harvest all of their communications too.

I say almost reported this because just hours after publishing it online it pulled the story from the web and attempted to withdraw the print copies that would appear on the next day's Observer newspaper (the Guardian's sister paper).

The article, titled “Revealed: secret European deals to hand over private data to America,” was written by Jamie Doward, who reported information from Wayne Madsen, a former Navy Lt. and NSA employee for 12 years.

Doward wrote: Madsen said the countries had “formal second- and third-party status” under signal intelligence (sigint) agreements that compels them to hand over data, including mobile phone and internet information to the NSA if requested.

Under international intelligence agreements, confirmed by declassified documents, nations are categorized by the U.S. according to their trust level. The U.S. is first party while the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand enjoy second-party relationships. Germany and France have third-party relationships.

He went on to say that seven European countries and the U.S. have access to a fiberoptic cable network, intercepting phone calls, emails and user logs from websites.

But the story was pulled (too late it would seem because some swift fingered observers grab screen shots and republished the article online) and the article now bears the message, “This article has been taken down pending an investigation."

The predominant theory is that the story was shelled because Wayne Madsen, the story's whistleblower is regarded by many as a crackpot conspiracy theorist.

He is the kind of guy who believes President Obama is a closet homosexual, and, yes, he is part of a flatulent fraternity. However, it's not all chemtrails and little green men. He could very well be onto something but it's unlikely that the truth and public relations will come clear.

Regardless, watch what you say, read, watch and buy. Sometime, somewhere, someone might use it as evidence against you.