Snowden, Surveillance and Snooping: How Private is Your Phone?

That mobile phone you love using may be spilling your secrets. Earlier this year, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, we learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) is watching our phone use and who we talk to, and listening to our conversations. Is this legal? Does this infringe on our privacy? Are there ways around being watched? Does it make us more susceptible to hackers or personal data leakage?

Background Information

National security targetEarlier this year, the National Security Agency sought a court order requiring Verizon to give the NSA metadata on all phone calls, including local and international calls. The order was approved in April of this year and was to continue for a three-month period that ended on July 19th, according to the Washington Post. There is little information pertaining to the service provider, so other providers could be included in this surveillance methodology.

In June, Snowden, a former NSA contractor, leaked this “private” information. In response, President Obama stated the data-gathering practices help protect the American people.

What It Means to Us

After all is said and done, it comes down to this: The NSA had and has the ability to listen to our phone calls. Do they listen to you tell your best friend about the latest deals you found at the mall? They most certainly could but probably won’t, as it would seem they have better things to do with their time. Do they listen to a terrorist who is talking to a “buddy” about the new-fangled IED (improvised explosive device) he’s building? Sure they can, and let’s hope they do.

The government and NSA cannot listen to your phone calls without just cause.

Can You Get Around It?

Technically, listening in on phone calls is legal, as per the President’s Surveillance Program introduced under President George W. Bush and renewed by President Obama. For data to be legally gathered by the American government inside the U.S. or distinctively obtained from U.S. citizens, data gatherers must comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and do so under the authority of the FISA Court.

For those who don’t want their phone calls monitored, what can you do? Not much. What you can do: Invent your own language, and use that as your only method of communication. No seriously, that’s just about the only way around it. You could also stop using your cell phone and have private conversations in person, like people used to do way back when. All in all, there is no way around it. Just assume anything you say on the phone can be heard by the NSA. But not to worry, it’s doubtful they’ll be passing around your great grandma’s super-secret cookie recipe anytime soon.

While the world waits for more definitive answers to privacy concerns, mobile users can take appropriate measures to safeguard their own hardware. Forty-three percent of cell phone applications provide a link to their privacy policies, and of that 43 percent, only half of their policies are accurate, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse reports. The blog posts at this Internet Service Providers site have plenty of information on how to keep your phones and computers as private and virus-free as possible.

What are your thoughts about the NSA monitoring cell phone usage?
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