Thanks to the patriotic courage of Edward Snowden and the once-secret documents he leaked to the media, we now know in frightening detail the danger posed to our freedom by the new information-age technology combined with the hysteria of the post-9/11 surveillance state. If I communicate the rough draft of these thoughts that I am now typing in personal correspondence to a colleague through Skype or Gmail, I have been forewarned that Microsoft, which owns the former, and Google the latter, will turn the substance of my communication over to the NSA, the world’s most powerful top-secret spy agency.
The rough draft of my column, intended only for the eyes of my editor before I refine it—or your most intimate communication in a Skype call—is routinely shared with the CIA and FBI through the NSA’s massive Prism data gathering system. As an NSA analyst stated in a document released by Snowden, this inter-agency cooperation underscores “the point that Prism is a team sport.” Except you, the unsuspecting customer whose privacy has been promised in promotions for Microsoft and Google services, are the ball being kicked around in that clandestine bureaucratic sport.
It was alarming enough to first learn about the massive metadata sweeps that the NSA conducts on all Internet traffic signaling the origin and destination of communication. But the disclosures printed in the Guardian newspaper, based on the documents Snowden leaked, show that the surveillance included the actual video and audio texts of Skype messages. The traffic turned over to the NSA tripled in the nine months since Microsoft bought the previously independent company. The snooping is no less intensive with Google chats and emails.