In an age of excess information, data collection is a constant process for every industry. Information will always be considered a highly valuable asset, as it enables companies to answer important questions and evaluate outcomes based on the information that they gather and measure about targeted variables. Consumer information is the key to product creation, marketing and success, however, the line between data collection and a violation of someone’s privacy is a line that is constantly being walked. Advanced technology and the internet have opened doors to an excess of information, and what we do and allow others to do with that information is a question to which there is no agreed upon answer yet.
The National Security Agency (NSA) is widely known for its role in collecting private information from citizens in the name of public safety. However, as technology advances, and the amount of information organizations are able to collect increases to know no bounds, concern grows for the boundaries that can be set on one of the most obscure government departments that exists.
Functions of the NSA
The NSA was established in 1952 by President Harry Truman as a modification of OP-20-G, the U.S. Navy’s signals intelligence and cryptanalysis group during World War II. The group was greatly respected and considered to have played an important role in providing vital information on adversaries of the U.S. government. The organization transformed into the Armed Forces Security Agency and was joined by members of the Department of State, Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency to form what we know today as the NSA.
The NSA is widely acknowledged as the country’s foremost authority on cryptanalysis, which means the government organization sifts through people’s private information in search of threats to national security. NSA analysts begin by gathering and decrypting intelligence from Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sources such as email, videos, photos, stored data, internet phone calls, chat, video conferencing, file transfers, and online social networking accounts. Of course, when the organization was first formed, the amount of information there was to decrypt was significantly less.
The NSA has been the subject of scrutiny among the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who is at the forefront of the struggle to rein in the surveillance superstructure in order to protect citizen rights to privacy, free speech, and association. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York City, the NSA greatly increased the amount of information they monitored. However, in 2013, after Edward Snowden leaked classified NSA information to the public, the criticism of how much information the NSA should be allowed to decrypt in the name of national security intensified.
Legality of Data Collection
Although the NSA is able to collect an excess of private information, they cannot do so at their liberty. With the NSA’s formation, and as the technology they are able to access grew, laws have been put in place to protect citizen rights, although the limitations for the information they can access are not extensive. The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, for example, requires communications companies to make their facilities available to law enforcement agencies or to supply consumer information following a court order.
Another law, the Patriot Act, has allowed the NSA to expand its widespread surveillance of suspected terrorists, which calls into question their qualifying factors for “suspected terrorists.” While this may be important for national security, it can easily fall into discriminatory territory and opens gateways into violations of citizen and human rights. The constitution and type of government in place in the U.S. demand that the government be transparent with its citizens, which puts the NSA in a gray area as it takes more information from citizens than it discloses.
So come the risks of collecting endless data: the more information that IoT devices are able to collect, the more information that is out in cyberspace for people to steal and use for their own means and political ends. The internet is constantly collecting browser information from your searches and IoT devices with microphones have been criticised for requesting permission to your mic while you are not accessing them. Today, we are accustomed to targeted ads based on browser searches from earlier in the day or a conversation that was had with a friend, simply because it’s the way of life now.
Rise of Medical Data
While we are all aware that machine learning and algorithms are tracking our searches and conversations, most people choose to ignore what feels like a violation of privacy and not put it in any kind of context. There are many ways our private information can be abused, and with emerging medical technologies like telemedicine and IoT for healthcare, the risk for these violations becomes greater and more personal. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 is a strict law that protects patient privacy of their medical information at all costs and subject violators to severe consequences, but where is that line drawn with medical devices?
There is a push for the integration of healthcare and IoT devices. According to Regis College, “Organizations worldwide are expected to spend a combined $3.7 trillion on information technology products and services in 2018… Of all the industries participating in this technological arms race, the health care sector is the most active, touting a compound annual growth rate of 5.5 percent.” The healthcare industry, like every other industry that strives for innovation, is going online, into the cloud, and into the digital world.
The availability of technology has created a demand for the innovation of healthcare and for access to tracking personal medical data on phones and other internet devices. We are all aware that the majority of information we see and share on the internet is not totally private, which raises the question of how HIPAA laws are being complied with by those who are monitoring people’s private information. Digital health is a growing field of technology, which means that this highly personal information will soon be subject to the violation of hackers, data thieves and cybercriminals. This will likely call for the need to revise online privacy legislation.
While the NSA can certainly be an organization that is used to help protect citizens and the United State’s confidential data, it is also a government department that requires close speculation. It can be difficult for citizens to fight for their right to privacy, as they have a lot going on in their day-to-day lives and may not have time to focus on problems that are not right in front of them. However, as more of our lives and communications happen online, it’s important to be aware of the potential risk of stolen information. Stay in the know of new privacy legislation, new requests for information access from your tech devices, and never stop questioning how the information companies request from you is being used.
Filed Under: Industry regulations