The technology that allows all of our phone, Internet and financial transactions to be tracked by the government is called “Big Data” by the Information Technology community.
In simple terms, Big Data is a shorthand phrase denoting the computer programs and hardware that can search very large databases, such as phone calls, credit cards and other banking transactions, to expose patterns and connections that would otherwise be impossible for humans to do by themselves.
Timothy B. Lee, in his article for the June 16 Washington Post, “The High Cost of Encryption,” quotes computer scientist J. Alex Halderman: “Security is rarely free. There are tradeoffs between convenience and usability and security.”
By convenience and usability he means that most everyone uses the encryption offered by their email provider, which only protects the transmission on the way from your computer to the main server, where the emails are decrypted and stored and thus accessible by the provider and also by the NSA.
While there are existing encryption apps that keep your message encrypted from your end to the other end, they are not convenient to use and difficult for the providers to implement, so most users have opted for convenience over tighter security.
In the same edition of the Washington Post is the article, “How PRISM (a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program) could destroy the tech giants” by Farhad Manjoo, who raises another important point.
Manjoo claims that many have adopted the attitude, “Hey, I’m not doing anything wrong, so I don’t really care if the NSA is reading my email...”
But, he continues, that is no reason for us not to demand a fuller accounting of what data the government is gathering on us. That way, at least, we’ll be better able to make an informed decision as to whether the tradeoff between privacy and security is really worth it.