The administration of US President Barack Obama announced on May 20, 2015 that the National Security Agency (NSA) must immediately begin shutting down its covert efforts to spy on the telephone conversations of American citizens. <Source> While the Patriot Act provisions that allow the NSA wide-sweeping powers of data collection expire on June 1, President Obama wants the shutdown began no later than May 22. The announcement comes on the heels of the USA Freedom Act passed last week that would essentially splinter the NSA’s authority to collect cell phone data.
Privacy and Internet Freedom activists are hailing this as a victory, but what does it really mean for you? Will you Internet activity also be safe from the government’s prying eyes? Is a VPN still a wise option for Internet browsing, even from the US?
The NSA is not going anywhere…for now
The recent laws being enacted and the directive from the Obama administration will certainly affect the ability of the NSA to gather data—cell phone data. These new provisions are not designed to affect the collection of Internet data.
But, wait! The NSA has denied that it monitors Internet traffic. It all seems a little confusing, but the application of a little rational thought might help to clear things up. Think about this: the use of cell phones and other mobile devices for Internet access is growing every day. Many privacy enthusiasts would argue that it is unreasonable to assume the NSA is collecting cell phone data solely in the form of recorded conversations. If they can monitor calls from a cell phone, how can one reasonably conclude that they cannot monitor the data being passed over a network via a mobile device?
The order to shut down the NSA data collection program sounds great for those that value their personal freedom, but too many people may take this as an excuse to become lax in the protection of data.
Are you using a VPN on your mobile device?
This is a good question. Answer it honesty. We receive emails all the time from people who don’t even realize their phone or tablet has a built-in VPN client. Many of these people simply connect to public Wi-Fi without ever giving privacy a second thought. For example you can see the iPhone vpn setup guide here.
Lots of people will turn on the Wi-Fi feature of their phone when they are within range of a network because using the network does not affect their 4G/5G data usage. The problem is that many of these public networks are unsecured. Anyone within range can log in. Sure, they may ask you to enter an email address before your browser will launch or view a 20-second before you can surf, but otherwise there are no security measures in place to regulate who is using the connection.
Bear in mind that we aren’t talking about China or the Middle East here. We’re talking about the Starbucks or Burger King in Anytown, USA. The land of the free. For some reason people are far more likely to take their security for granted at home than they are abroad. Major mistake.
Countless reports are filed each year of identity theft in the US, and a fair amount of these involve data being snooped and stolen from an unsecured wireless connection.
The NSA isn’t the only one looking
Ordering the NSA to cease and desist the collection of cell phone data is a step in the right direction for increased freedom and privacy, but the NSA isn’t the only one that might be observing your Internet activities. As we stated above, identity theft is a big business. Data thieves are constantly looking for an exploit in wireless networks.
Perhaps you think that your Internet history is safe as long as you don’t do it from your home computer. Wrong. The browser on your device also records your history and can be easily accessed. Furthermore, devices like the Android OS are powered by Google and basically connect you across the entire Googlesphere—the Play Store, YouTube, and more. Did you ever wonder why you start getting those uncanny recommendations after visiting a website or watching a video? It’s like the Internet can read your mind. Well, someone certainly can.
If the NSA were the only threat to the personal privacy of citizens in the US, the recent announcements from Capitol Hill would be very good news. Unfortunately, there is still much to be done in the struggle for Internet freedom. Until then, using a VPN on all of your mobile devices is the smart play. A VPN is affordable and easy to set up, and it can give you something that is priceless—peace of mind.
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