October 2, 2013

MOORE: Why the NSA Might Be Spying on Your Classmates

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By PARKER MOORE

The members of Generation ME, also known as “Millennials,” are known for their tendency to overshare personal information: Facebook posts about break-ups and hangover remedies abound, tweets about the kind of cheese one just consumed are almost too numerous to count.

Privacy settings on these popular services, if present, are likely not well-understood. The fact is, if someone really wants information about an individual, the Internet is likely the first place to which they will turn in order to find out more about them. Web crawlers scour the Internet and scrape up all the information they can about anything and everything. Google’s indexing algorithms have gotten so good, that when working in tandem with the input parser, one can almost always find the information one seeks.

This, and the inherent security vulnerabilities in the Internet and the systems which serve content, mean it is incredibly easy to see an end to any expectation of privacy on the Internet.

The National Security Agency (NSA) has been in the spotlight quite a bit as of late. With the revelations of the NSA’s massive and seemingly unimpeded collection and analysis of data disclosed back in June by Edward Snowden, the issue of Internet privacy becomes all the more pressing.

While the average Cornellian may lean on his or her privilege as a means of protecting his or her psyche against the awesome and terrible invasion of privacy the U.S. federal government is engaged in, one should know that there are many Cornellians who have likely already been watched. Under current federal law, any non-citizen (such as an international student) can be monitored online without discretion.

Additionally, any U.S. citizen who has social ties to non-citizens may find his or her communications between his or her non-citizen friends monitored, recorded and stored for later analysis. It is likely, therefore, that much of the Cornell community has been subject to the NSA’s omnipresent surveillance apparatus.

The information available online to the prying eyes of a potential employer’s HR team may mean an end to one’s opportunities with that employer. Imagine what the research uncovers: old photographs of an applicant wildly drunk, or flicking off the camera or doing something otherwise not so professional. Millennials’ tendency to overshare may mean more personal information is available online, which can have the wonderful side effect of limiting mother’s nagging phone calls to send her those photos from your trip to Puerto Rico.

However, it also has many negative side effects in terms of security and privacy. Once one has given identifying information once to any website on the Internet, the information is essentially available to anyone with the means to find and access it.