Does it feel like somebody's watching you?

Kush Azrael | 8/2/2013, 11:42 a.m.
Recent leaks about government access to records from phone companies, internet providers and credit card companies are raising new questions ...

Hey, somebody’s watching you! From what you spend to where you eat, to who you call, where you travel and what you Google, you’re being monitored.

Recent leaks about government access to records from phone companies, internet providers and credit card companies are raising new questions about how much other people may know about you, especially in the age of the internet and new technology.

They watch from the air, from cameras, and from computers. And you help them by volunteering huge amounts of information about yourself in the magnetic strip on the back of your credit card, the SIM card in your phone, and the sites you go to on the internet.

In 2009, there were 21.6 billion credit card transactions. There are millions of magnetic particles that form a strip on credit cards that record information. The government can monitor when and where your credit cards are used and how much was charged. They can know where you buy coffee and groceries. Once the magnetic strip gets swiped, it is fairly easy for the government to track the information.

Although the scope of credit card tracking is unknown, former National Security Administration (NSA) officials told the Wall Street Journal that the NSA had established relationships with credit card companies, like those that they established with phone companies, which provide them with information under a warrant, subpoena or court order. In any credit card transaction, card holder information is passed between retailers and credit card companies.

What about your trusty cell phone?

You and your high tech cell phone give away information about you, too. Today roughly 91 percent of adults in the United States have a cell phone, most of which are smart phones. In 2011, the government made 1.3 million requests for subscriber phone information. The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC also called FISA) has rejected only 9 out of 33,900 government applications for surveillance.

With the rise of smart phones and SIM cards, cell phones are not just for the storage of digits and character messages. We use them to navigate trips, buy things on the internet, or even to deposit checks with a bank app and a camera.

Emails are no better.

The government can access your email with either a warrant or a subpoena depending on how old your messages are. Google reportedly granted about 90 percent of government requests for user information in 2012. Microsoft granted about 65 percent of government requests. So the government can read your email. Access to an email sent within 180 days requires a warrant, but an email older than 180 days and email drafts only require a subpoena and prior notice.

Then you have the cameras. 30 million surveillance cameras are watching Americans. There are 4,000 cameras in part of lower Manhattan alone. Cameras on toll roads and at intersections record car information that can be shared with insurance companies.

Americans are constantly being watched by these cameras. Walking to work, going to the grocery store or anywhere in the sight of a camera. Police use them to watch streets, public transportation and public spaces. Whether these cameras help prevent crime is subject to debate. Some say that cameras are only good for forensic evidence for use in investigations after a crime has occurred.

And let’s not forget your beloved computer with its companion, the internet. Government agencies can get access to online activities through warrants, subpoenas and court orders. Even a deleted Facebook account stays in backup logs for up to 90 days. And most search engines use “cookies” to keep user information for 6 months. There’s a record of everything you search for on the internet. Facebook tracks all the sites you visit that have “like” buttons or allow you to sign in with Facebook, that’s pretty much all of them. If the internet giants can record so much about us, who can look at this electronic trail? The Government!

So do you still feel like you have privacy in America? Think again. Almost everything we do electronically is being tracked in some way. Even though they are only tools of war today, more than 30,000 domestic drones will travel American skies within 20 years, according to a report for Congress by the Federal Aviation Administration.