Editor’s note: Following a recent New York Times article about how the NSA has undermined web security so they can more easily hack into emails and private communication on the Internet, we received several messages from readers. In the following article, CEO Kent Lawson clarifies how user data is kept private and safe when using PRIVATE WiFi.
When I read that New York Times article on the NSA’s ability to undermine basic privacy safeguards on the web, I felt the same as many people: shocked but not exactly surprised.
If you also felt dismayed about the NSA’s actions, you were not alone. Below are some comments from the article on the New York Times website:
“So the NSA is now working to ‘insert vulnerabilities in Internet protection products.’ When we acquire viruses and malware in our computers, we may have the NSA to thank for inserting these vulnerabilities in products we bought to protect our Internet and computer systems. How exactly is this activity protecting the national interests of the United States when it interferes in commercially available Internet protection products that U.S. citizens buy and use thinking, apparently erroneously, that we are protecting our computers?” — H.B., Ambler, PA
“For all of its faults, historic and contemporary, I am on balance relieved to know that the U.S. Government has this ability because I believe the threats to our national security are such that we would greatly handicap ourselves economically and militarily if we did not pursue these means — encryption decoding — to the ends of protecting our country and allies. That said, I do not understand the persistent drive for secrecy about these operations. A democracy requires that the operations be transparent to the public. I appreciate the efforts of the Fourth Estate, the Press, to bring this issue out in the open. And it remains to the Fifth Estate, citizens, to discuss the full scope and ramifications of these kinds of operations, keeping in mind all of the issues on the broad spectrum from personal privacy to national security. Technology such as encryption decoding requires legal and policy balances from the Fourth Amendment to consumer protection to assure the public that these tools are being used to protect citizens and not against us by either terrorists or tyrannical government. That is the key issue, not the technology per se.” — T.M., Ithaca, NY
Below are what some of our own users have to say about the topic on our Facebook page:
- “I don’t get how any American can be surprised by this. Our government has a long history of invasiveness or just the simple fact that there’s a lot of money to be made through marketing.” — K. R.
- “There was less discontent among the whole world before these agencies started hacking everyone’s business transactions and conversations. NOTHING is private anymore and everyone should know this. I can see where it is beneficial for protecting banking transactions, medical records, and monitoring for pedophilia, but overall it has created more problems and expenses that are not worth it! Private should mean PRIVATE and it is no one’s business what I do. Want to monitor me, go ahead for I have nothing to hide. It just irks me to know what I say and do is their business too!” — L.P.
How the NSA Did It
So how exactly did the NSA erode privacy protections on the Internet? They’ve been able to accomplish this two ways:
- First, they’ve weakened international encryption standards adopted by developers to ensure that these standards included vulnerabilities that they can exploit. The problem is now anyone else, including hackers, can exploit these vulnerabilities as well.
- Second, they’ve been able to coerce Internet companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Hotmail to build back doors into their products to make surveillance easier.
PRIVATE WiFi: Your Data is Private
We are currently in the process of consulting with our security and encryption providers to learn more about what might be going on. So far, there is not enough technical information to draw any conclusions.
But let me be clear about the following three things:
- PRIVATE WiFi has never been approached by the government for any reason.
- We protect our servers against intrusion with state-of-the-art technology.
- We maintain no logs of user communications.
However you feel about the recent NSA revelations, online and offline privacy are both hugely significant and complex issues that we need to discuss as a society.
Any society must to able to investigate citizens who may be breaking the law, but at the same time, without adequate laws in place to protect us against unwarranted privacy incursions by the government, our privacy has been eroded over time. And this erosion has clearly occurred on a massive scale over the last few years.
This has happened for two reasons: one is the threat of terrorism, which is the primary driving force behind these efforts by the NSA. The other is that while the Internet has benefited us enormously as a society, it has become the primary tool for gathering information on our citizens by the government and by business. And that “collect it all” mentality has cost us our privacy.
The recent revelations about the NSA’s ability to weaken privacy safeguards should remind us that privacy laws and rules need to be protected against the onslaught of those powers that be who want our personal information, whether they be advertisers or our own government.
And we want all of our users to know that PRIVATE WiFi will continue to be a product that considers your privacy its top priority.