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big data

What You Need to Know About Big Data and the Government

by Lohengrin on January 9, 2013

Reading time: 5 – 8 minutes

Digital privacy issues are particularly important in light of government’s use of big data. There is a great need for privacy and data protection. But many of us underestimate the reach of big data into our digital privacy. And even more importantly, most people do not realize how government fits into all this.

With advertising, for example, perhaps you are aware that companies like Google or Facebook scan your e-mails for information in order to show targeted and relevant advertisements. You may say, “Ok, that’s not such a big deal. As long as humans aren’t actively reading my e-mails then I can live with targeted advertising and may even benefit from uniquely useful products.”

Unfortunately, big data and its impact on your goes much further. The government is fully aware of these practices and ruled that it is not a violation of privacy law due to minute interpretations of “in transit” communications and communications that have been stored on a third party’s server.

And we do not know who will be in power in 4, 8, 12 or 50 years. Yet all these digital records will be available for them to use and abuse.


William Binney is a former National Security Agency (NSA) employee who has been exposing severe violations of national privacy law protections. In this interview Binney asserts that the NSA is recording the e-mails of “nearly all US citizens, including members of Congress.”

Binney further explains that the NSA is collecting private e-mails and storing them in a database. These e-mails aren’t all being actively read by humans but they are being stored, archived and databased. Then they could be accessed later.

For further depth of The Program, codenamed Stellar Wind, Laura Poitras interviews William Binney here:

You could possibly classify the whistleblower as a disgruntled ex-employee or attention seeker especially considering the whistleblower’s lack of hard evidence. But look at how easily the FBI broke the Patraeus scandal by accessing his private e-mails. Also, consider the massive Bluffdale data center being built by the NSA in the Utah desert.

Between Gmail scanning your e-mails, advertisers tracking your online activities and a massive data center being built somewhere in Utah it seems there are too many indications that digital privacy costs a premium these days.

A point is that digital privacy is quickly becoming an antiquated notion unless your affirmatively assert it and take control. The old “if you have nothing to hide” argument holds no water here. And we do not know who will be in power in 4, 8, 12 or 50 years. Yet all these digital records will be available for them to use and abuse.

Privacy needs to be respected because history tends to repeat itself. With the US government already targeting and assassinating children for political speech; imagine what a modern day political “purge” would look like with access to every citizen’s private e-mails.


Entire books, like How To Vanish The Book or Five Steps To Anonymous Online Speech, could be written on protecting your privacy in the digital age. With science fiction like attack vectors, such as the Tempest attack which uses Van Eck phreaking, there is no way to completely guarantee your privacy either digitally or on the Internet but there are certain privacy hygiene practices you can engage in for additional degrees of protection.

If you use cloud storage solutions to store private information online then we strongly recommend that you look for storage providers that offer zero knowledge privacy. In short, zero knowledge privacy encrypts your information to the point where even employees of your cloud storage provider cannot access your information.

For example, a quick Backblaze review reveals they seem to offer zero knowledge backup services and are also very open with their customers. Even if the provider does not provide zero knowledge, like Dropbox, you can still use TrueCrypt.

SpiderOak is very similar to Dropbox except it encrypts your data before transfer and implements a zero-knowledge privacy policy. Plus, you get 2 GB of space for free.

You can encrypt email but the tools, like GNU Privacy Guard, do not seem to be very user friendly and require significant setup time but are worthwhile if you frequently send and receive sensitive emails. Mailvelope is a new option that I have found particularly useful and easy to use with native plugins right into Gmail or Yahoo! Mail.

When it comes to other online financial activities such as banking or making purchases, there are no guarantees. You can make sure to stick with well-known retailers and protect your WiFi connection but there have been many privacy violations exposing hundreds of millions of people to identity theft. You can also consider our Free Bitcoin Guide since it is a tremendous tool to protect financial privacy.


One overly cautious rule of computer security is to assume that anything that takes place online is open to compromise. You should treat anything you do on the Internet as susceptible to interception.

But this does not mean you should avoid the Internet entirely or not employ protective privacy hygeine like using Bitcoin to pay for your VPN. After all, for now we have bills to pay, gifts or movie tickets to buy and bank accounts to monitor online and we can do all of this while being cognizant of our digital privacy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lohengrin holds a degree in Accounting, a law degree from California Western School of Law and studies the Austrian school of economics. He works as an entrepreneur, investor, journalist, monetary scientist and operates Run To Gold. He is a strong advocate of the freedom of speech, a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the San Diego County Bar Association. He has appeared on ABC, NBC, BNN, many radio shows and presented at many investment conferences throughout the world. This is merely one article of 43 by .
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Damon January 9, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Thanks for the article, Trace. Your observation that, “we do not know who will be in power in 4, 8, 12 or 50 years,” should be particularly chilling, even to those who still have some faith left in our current rulers.

Thanks also for the link to Mailvelope. I had never heard of it and looked over the website. I’d hesitate to recommend it to crypto-newbs, though, because you have to allow the program to handle the management of your private keys, so you’re trusting that now and 8, 12, 50 years from now the software remains on the up and up. Additionally, on Mailvelope’s own page, they point out that webmail services will save an unencrypted draft of whatever you’re typing every few seconds.

As they say, poor security is worse than no security because it can lull you into a false sense of security.

Really GPG4Win is NOT at all hard to use, but the interface is ugly and poorly explained. A user-friendly means of encryption is sorely needed, so I’m going to keep an eye on Mailvelope and hope it grows some legs.

2 Trace Mayer, J.D. January 10, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Damon, I agree about some of those issues with Mailvelope but it gets the basic job done of leaving cyphertext in your email records instead of plain text. I usually compose the document in Text Wrangler, a .txt editing program, and then copy/paste into the email program and encrypt it. For the keys I put them in a TrueCrypt volume for storage. I seem to have a hard time figuring out how to do a mass export of keys though ….

Yes, user interfaces that are easy to navigate are sorely needed for encryption technologies.

3 Lawrence January 29, 2013 at 8:07 am

Please submit the free Personal tips as poromoted by your goodselves.

Many thanx.

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