Freedom Act limits NSA spying on phone records

By Don Rajael, CCNN Writer

UK Ministry
While governments attack each other via electronic hacking, they’re also spying on citizens through internet-connected devices and collecting massive amounts of data.

After Islamic extremists attacked America on September 11, 2001, a law known as the Patriot Act was passed, greatly empowering government agencies to protect the nation. For example, it granted the National Security Agency (NSA) a lot of access to citizen phone records and online activities, in ways that privacy supporters criticized for violating the USA’s Constitution (the highest law in the land). This past summer, the Freedom Act was enacted to limit portions of the Patriot Act, banning “bulk collection” of phone data to balance privacy and security. In the wake of recent Islamic warfare, however, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton has introduced the Liberty Through Strength Act to extend the NSA’s powers until January 2017.

See, the NSA has been under fire the past few years, ever since ex-NSA employee Edward Snowden revealed how much the government spies on its citizens through their phones, e-mails, and social media. Even the USA’s Justice Department was snooping, using spy planes to sift through American cellphones for criminals. This hardcore spying was also happening across the “pond” in Britain, where the government was caught collecting images from personal webcams.

Governments are turning more and more to mass surveillance (close observation) of ordinary citizens who haven’t necessarily done anything wrong.  That’s why the United Nations warned last year that government spying is becoming a “dangerous habit” across the world. Several lawmakers and privacy rights supporters have called for stronger laws to limit how often and how deeply governments can get into personal data, and they’re concerned that companies like Google and Facebook are being strong-armed into providing user information. Even though governments claim that what they’re doing is legal, and that it helps them catch terrorists and criminals, the UN is still concerned. “Secret rules and secret interpretations… of law do not have the necessary qualities of ‘law,’” said a UN report on digital privacy. “Any capture of communications data is potentially an interference with privacy.”

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel became very upset with the NSA last year, when she discovered they were listening to her phone conversations. After all, Germany has been a loyal ally of the USA for decades. In response, their government cancelled a contract with the wireless phone company Verizon last summer over security concerns.

All across the globe, citizens are becoming increasingly concerned with how their data is used by companies, and whether or not their privacy is safe. “All countries should immediately start to review their digital surveillance practices and bring them in line with international rights standards,” says Human Rights Watch expert Cynthia Wong. The Freedom Act is just one step being taken by lawmakers to scale back the invasion of citizen privacy.

Images courtesy of Surian Soosay on Flickr.