The revelation that the
National Security Agency has been intercepting hundreds of thousands of e-mail contacts every day from private accounts is another disturbing indication of the continued erosion of privacy and Big Brother intrusiveness on the part of government.
The Washington Post reported late Monday that the NSA, a spy agency whose very name has Orwellian overtones, intercepts data from massive numbers of email address books on Yahoo, Gmail, Facebook and Hotmail accounts that move though global data links. The NSA also collects about a half million "buddy" lists from live chat services and email accounts.
Millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world -- including those of Americans -- are examined by the NSA in its effort to find possible links to terrorism or other criminal activity, according to the Post. The newspaper learned about the collection tactics from secret documents provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden and confirmed by senior intelligence officials.
The newspaper said the NSA analyzes the contacts to map relationships and connections among various foreign intelligence targets. During a typical day last year, the NSA's Special Source Operations branch collected more than 440,000 email address books, the Post said. That would correspond to more than 250 million a year.
The NSA told the Post that the agency was seeking intelligence on valid targets and was not interested in personal information from ordinary Americans. Given the continuing revelations of NSA intrusion on communications, that strains credibility.
Privacy is a fragile thing, particularly in a world where many choose to share their lives online. The NSA probably isn't the only agency doing cybersleuth information sweeping.
While some may say they have nothing to hide and therefore have no problem with government agencies eavesdropping on their communications, the loss of privacy is disturbing. We used to live in a society that prided itself on the fact that nobody opened our mail or listened in on our telephone conversations. No more.
As we learn more and more about our government's intrusion into our personal lives, we come to the realization that our "right" to privacy has been compromised to the point where any real expectation of privacy is unwarranted. Be careful what you say and choose your friends wisely.