The Implications of the PRISM Program to Internet Users

Ever since news about the National Security Agency gaining access to the civilians’ personal data in social media and other accounts started to make rounds early in June 2013, it has been met with all kinds of legal and verbal protests from the general public, politicians, and entrepreneurs in the online industry. The thing is, no matter how strong the objection is to this luxury the NSA has, the Prism program has already been greenlit by the US government, and therefore takes precedence over claims for privacy by Internet users and—as the latest reports suggest—major Internet companies alike.

What is Prism?

The Prism

The Prism program is a surveillance program that allows the NSA to obtain data from the major Internet companies, like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and YouTube, to name a few. The data they retrieve includes:

–  email
–  personal details in social media
–  media content (videos and pictures
–  file transfer
–  video, voice, and standard online chat logs

All these “top-secret” information came from a leaked, 41-page PowerPoint presentation that was first published on The Washington Post. The presentation suggests that the Internet companies involved in the Prism program were willing partners, but Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Larry Page (Google) had denied this. Curiously enough, the presentation also shows when Facebook, Google, and the rest of the companies were sourced for information.

According to the Director of National Intelligence, Prism program mainly targets Internet users living outside of the United States that show signs of suspicious activities. This goes in line with NSA’s statement that the program is being used only to obtain intelligence related to intended acts of violence and terrorism, not to intentionally target a US citizen or anyone living in US. Such reassurances doesn’t placate a lot of people though, especially the international community.

How Prism May Affect Internet Users around the Globe

Internet users outside of the United States understandably bristled upon learning what the Prism program is about. Everybody feels that their privacy is being impinged on. The worst part is, a foreign government is sifting through their personal data while their own government can do nothing to stop it. It’s unsurprising that many people dub this program as “online wiretapping” and a violation of the right to privacy.

The natural reaction of Internet users would be to reduce their use of online communication tools. People may begin to rethink the profile descriptions and personal information they provide and exchange over social media. There’s a high possibility that users will start to limit their social media and chat usage—many might even quit. At the very least, those who remain comfortable using the Internet for social and communication activities will still limit the information they will relay over the Web.

These are the same knee-jerk responses that respondents to a Pollfish survey gave when asked about how they are responding to the inevitable probes of the Prism program. Here is a portion of the infographic showing the results of the survey:

NSA Project Prism

Unfortunately, this will be difficult to do since today’s societies are highly dependent on the chat platforms (ex: Skype, Google Talk, and Yahoo Messenger) and active in social media sites. The mere fact that computers and Internet connection have now become necessities for most jobs makes each and every computer and Internet user vulnerable to the Prism program.

How Internet Users Should Respond to Prism

At this point, there’s no stopping the NSA from getting the data they want from Internet and communications companies. Just recently, it was reported that Verizon was commanded by court order to turn in phone records of millions of its users for the benefit of the Prism program.

There are people who take everything in stride. They believe that the United States government has been doing this for a long time already, after all. Although it won’t hurt to be more, there’s no use panicking over this and depriving yourself of the benefits of the Internet, especially if you honestly don’t have anything nefarious to hide.

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