Who is spying on you? And do you care?

Several of our interns and younger editorial staff at Open Health News (OHN) have made a point of collecting and posting news clips about NSA and government spying on web sites. My initial reaction was to remove them from our site since they did not have a direct bearing on the topics of open source or health information technology (HIT).  However, over the past year I have shifted my stance on this issue.

It has become apparent that both the government and private companies are actively engaged in spying on citizens for various purposes. Now that electronic health record (EHR) systems are going into place around the country, there is  a rapidly expanding quantity of very sensitive,  personal health information now online. The thought of the government and private companies getting hold of my family's medical records and using them for various nefarious purposes is disturbing. But, I'm not sure anything can be done to really stop that from happening.

What do you think? Before you decide, look over the following selected news articles. Then share your opinions with us.

Forget the NSA: Your Tech Gadgets Are Spying on You
Recent headlines about PRISM — the U.S. government program that allows security officials to spy on people’s Internet activity — confirm what conspiracy theorists have long been foretelling: Big Brother is watching.

But is the government the only one keeping tabs on what you search for, watch and discuss with friends? The truth is, there are others out there — businesses, advertisers, scammers — hoping to line their pockets by collecting your personal data.

Would you let your TV watch you?
U.S. Representative Michael E. Capuano filed legislation Thursday that would allow consumers to block efforts by Verizon Communications Inc. and other video distributors to use new technologies to track the behavior of customers as they watch television.

Cable and technology companies such as Verizon are trying to develop monitoring systems that would be built into cable TV subscribers’ set-top boxes or digital video recorders and use cameras and microphones to keep tabs on the movements and comments of viewers — even to the point of detecting their moods. The companies would then select advertisements that would be most likely to appeal to those viewers.

Such living room surveillance systems are not yet in use, but Capuano said Congress should make sure consumer protections are in place before companies begin collecting such data.

Take a Peek at How Widespread Spying Has Become
… the government is spying on everyone’s digital and old-fashioned communications. For example, the government is photographing the outside information on every piece of snail mail. The government is spying on you through your phone … and may even remotely turn on your camera and microphone when your phone is off..

Moreover, Google knows just about every WiFi password in the world … and so the NSA does as well, since it spies so widely on Google.

Sen. Schumer Warns Your Internet Enabled Smart TV May Be Spying on You
That new Internet-enabled television in your living room may be allowing virtual Peeping Toms to watch and listen to you because manufacturers never bothered with adequate security measures to keep unwanted guests out.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is calling on major television manufacturers to create a uniform security standard to stop the hacking before it becomes widespread.

A security research group recently highlighted security flaws in so-called “smart” TVs that make it simple for anyone to hack the television’s internal microphone and embedded camera originally designed for video chatting.

Researcher Argues For Open Hardware To Defend Against NSA Spying
While there is no foolproof defense against government spying, snooping by entities like the National Security Agency could be made far more difficult through the use of Internet infrastructure built on open-source hardware, an academic researcher says.

In an Op-Ed piece published Tuesday in The New York Times, Eli Dourado, a research fellow at George Mason University, argued that companies using open hardware would be in a better position to detect backdoors or vulnerabilities planted by the NSA or any other government agency.

Ten Steps You Can Take Right Now Against Internet Surveillance
One of the trends we've seen is how, as the word of the NSA's spying has spread, more and more ordinary people want to know how (or if) they can defend themselves from surveillance online. But where to start?

The bad news is: if you're being personally targeted by a powerful intelligence agency like the NSA, it's very, very difficult to defend yourself. The good news, if you can call it that, is that much of what the NSA is doing is mass surveillance on everybody. With a few small steps, you can make that kind of surveillance a lot more difficult and expensive, both against you individually, and more generally against everyone…  Here's ten steps you can take to make your own devices secure.

In Depth Review: New NSA Documents Expose How Americans Can Be Spied On Without A Warrant
The Guardian published a new batch of secret leaked FISA court and NSA documents yesterday, which detail the particulars of how government has been accessing Americans’ emails without a warrant, in violation of the Constitution. The documents lay bare fundamental problems with the ineffectual attempts to place meaningful limitations on the NSA’s massive surveillance program.

Feds Put Heat On Web Firms For Master Encryption Keys
Whether the FBI and NSA have the legal authority to obtain the master keys that companies use for Web encryption remains an open question, but it hasn't stopped the U.S. government from trying.
The U.S. government has attempted to obtain the master encryption keys that Internet companies use to shield millions of users' private Web communications from eavesdropping.

Campaign To End NSA Warrantless Surveillance Surges Past 500,000 Signers
Over five hundred thousand people have signed onto the Stop Watching Us campaign, a nonpartisan, grassroots campaign opposing the dragnet surveillance programs of the National Security Agency (NSA).  Galvanized by newly surfaced evidence confirming the NSA’s surveillance of the phone records and Internet activity of individuals in the United States and abroad, the Stop Watching Us coalition is seeking public accountability and tangible reform to rein in unconstitutional surveillance.

Tomorrow’s Surveillance: Everyone, Everywhere, All The Time
“Encryption works.” Right now almost all Internet traffic is completely unencrypted, or badly encrypted, or only encrypted until it reaches the first set of servers, or your host encrypts all data with the same key. But these are all, in theory, solvable problems.

If we don’t want governments (or anyone else) spying on our Internet traffic and our phone conversations, then we can stop them from doing so. Tools that seem to successfully ward off the full might of the NSA already exist: PGP for email, OTR for instant messaging, RedPhone for voice calls.

Ways To Put The Patient First When Collecting Health Data
Report from 2013 Health Privacy Summit: The timing was superb for last week’s Health Privacy Summit, held on June 5 and 6 in Washington, DC. First, it immediately followed the 2000-strong Health Data Forum (Health Datapalooza), where concern for patients rights came up repeatedly. Secondly, scandals about US government spying were breaking out and providing a good backdrop for talking about protection our most sensitive personal information–our health data.

What Does Screening Your Phone Records Have To Do With Health Care?
I have been following  the news about the National Security Agency (NSA) access to our phone records with great interest.  If we as a society don’t sort some of this out, we’ll see a repeat in the health sector a few years from now.

These discussions seem to pivot on issues of population-level safety vs. personal liberty, and on trust vs. suspicion re: how much of the process is driven by machine learning vs. individuals.

See other articles on NSA and Spying on citizens posted on Open Health News (OHN).

Again, the thought of the government and private companies getting hold of my family's medical records for various nefarious purposes is disturbing. But, I'm not sure anything can be done to really stop that from happening. Wwhat do you think? Share your views with us.