Stop. Read these next words very carefully. Your Internet activities could be under surveillance at this very moment if you are not using a VPN to browse the Web. Every website you visit, every email you send, every photo you share or download might be resting in a data depository right now waiting to be analyzed.
Did the starkness of that paragraph scare you with its George Orwell overtones? Are you at this very moment thinking back over the last ten websites you visited? The last ten chats you had? The last ten videos you watched? Good. While it isn’t our intention to scare you, it is our intention to make you aware of the very real threats to your personal privacy that exist due to something known as Prism and other programs that are very similar which are being used by various governments to track and monitor Internet activity.
What is Prism?
In 2007 the National Security Agency of the United States launched an electronic surveillance and data mining program in cooperation with state agencies from other countries like the UK. Prism is the code name for this operation which is officially titled US-984XN. Since its inception, Prism has been used to collect data by demanding that companies such as Google turn over data that matches court-approved search terms.
Approximately 91% of the NSA’s Internet traffic is attributable to data collection through Prism. The program has been widely criticized by watchdogs of Internet freedom but defended by politicians who claim Prism cannot be used on domestic citizens without a warrant and that it helps prevent the spread of terrorism.
It has since been revealed that the Prism program has extended beyond the traditional means of Internet access to include surveillance of mobile networks. Companies such as Verizon have been compelled to turn over cell phone data to the NSA. The current President of the United States, Barack Obama, has defended Prism as “a circumscribed, narrow system directed at us being able to protect our people.”
The implications of Prism
Prism (Portal for Real-time Information Sharing and Management) made headlines in June of 2013 when Edward Snowden, a contracted worker for the NSA, leaked various documents about the data collection practices of the United States to The Washington Post and The Guardian. The backlash was immediate. Many advocates of Internet freedom were quick to point out the serious implications such a broad-sweeping program could have on personal privacy.
As we stated, political officials are quick to claim that Prism was never intended to be a blanket form of Internet surveillance and that it is only used in targeted scenarios. But is this really true? The fact is that the NSA does not answer to agencies that monitor trespasses against the Internet freedom of the average citizen. There are little efforts at holding the NSA accountable for their collection efforts and forcing them to identify and justify what information is collected.
It would be reasonable to suggest that the concerns of many individuals rest in the fact that they believe programs such as these open the door to a restricted Internet and too much power given to the State when it comes to determining what Internet content is appropriate for viewing.
The VPN answer to Prism
The revelation of Prism as a data collection source certainly made people more conscious of the need to take measures to anonymize their Internet browsing. The evolution of VPN’s as an effective and affordable means of anonymous Internet browsing was surely aided by the Prism revelations.
Is using a VPN an effective countermeasure for Prism? Without question. While it is not the only measure individuals can take, using a VPN forms a strong foundation for any personal privacy plan. The features of a VPN make it ideally suited to anonymous browsing.
Using our own highly-regarded VPN service as an example, let’s look at a few important points. First and foremost, our VPN’s are an affordably priced privacy solution. You can buy an entire year of VPN service from VPNaccounts.com for less than $100. Secondly, when you use one of our VPN servers to connect to the Internet your IP address becomes anonymized by virtue of the VPN IP address. Therefore, all traffic can only be traced as far as the VPN. Thirdly, we do not maintain logs of user’s Internet activity. Even if we were forced to comply with a data request there would be nothing turn over. Lastly, state-of-the-art encryption is what creates the secure VPN tunnel between your local machine and the Internet. The data passing back and forth is unintelligible to prying eyes.
We will never advocate the use of the Internet to participate in criminal activity. What we do advocate is the right of the individual to use the Internet in an unrestricted, legal manner without a concern over whether or not their personal data is being collected.