Just when you thought you were immune to new Snowden revelations about the National Security Agency’s privacy-shattering shenanigans, word dropped this week that the NSA has built a search engine with “Google-like” capacities. Its sole purpose? Share data about you with law enforcement agencies like the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and others. And the net cast by ICREACh, as the search engine is named, is nothing short of incredible: Reports state that it can access more than 850 billion records—e-mail messages, chats, even phone locations.
Though the NSA claims that it focuses its efforts on international targets, not domestic citizens, the big kicker here is that the information being collected, searched and analyzed by well over 1,000 NSA employees is on American citizens who have done nothing wrong…and it’s sharing the data broadly with law enforcement. It’s what Mashable is calling “Google for spies,” and it’s the newest way in which more than 20 law enforcement agencies can build a case against someone using unprecedented access to records that shouldn’t exist. In fact, a July investigation by The Washington Post found that the information intercepted on ordinary American citizens includes pictures of children, academic transcripts and even mental health records.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that NSA is targeting American citizens who aren’t under suspicion. So where will the revelations stop? 2014 has been full of more and more information about the activities NSA performs without oversight or permission, like recent revelations about a cyberwarfare system called MonsterMind that could be subverted to allow private metadata to be turned against American citizens. If it all sounds a bit dystopian, that’s because it is, and studies are showing that fewer and fewer Americans feel comfortable discussing the NSA online. As revelations keep on coming, citizens are stifling the conversation that could eventually hold NSA accountable for its actions and stop the indiscriminate collection of our most private data.
If you’re concerned about your privacy, there are ways to make your smartphone, search engine and email carrier less likely to transmit your personal data to the NSA. But we can’t stop there. Since the NSA operates on an extremely secretive and even extralegal basis, it’s clear that it will require a concerted mass effort to quell spying on ordinary Americans.
Above all, we can’t let the NSA prevent us from speaking up publicly, putting pressure on our elected officials and exposing the agency’s overreaching tactics document by document. It may be easy to become immune to Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing and the slow trickle of documents about the NSA that is making its way to newspapers in the U.S. and abroad, but fighting power with knowledge may be our best bet. Give the publications and journalists who are brave enough to expose our government’s spying on its own citizens your support, your attention and your amplification. It may seem small in the face of 850 billion records, but let’s make sure this struggle is on the record.