President Donald Trump announced Brett Kavanaugh as his selection to fill the Supreme Court vacancy on July 9. While Kavanaugh must pass through congressional confirmation hearings before officially being appointed to the Supreme Court, that may be more of a formality with a majority Republican Congress.
Some have raised concerns regarding Kavanaugh’s stance on privacy and mass data collection as he has previously stated that he believed the NSA’s bulk collection of data was constitutional, according to The Washington Examiner.
Brian Bates, a sophomore studying computer science, is involved in organizations that raise awareness of government surveillance and provide assistance to people seeking to keep their data secure. Bates believes that personal privacy is extremely important but that not enough people are fully aware of the issue at hand and how to protect their personal information.
Q: What do people need to know about the current state of government surveillance?
A: The current state is under transition with a recent Supreme Court ruling that cellphone monitoring cannot be indiscriminately done; it has to be done through specific warrants. That being said, for years under President Bush and President Obama, the NSA had bulk data collection that they used to get information on just about anybody they wanted.
Edward Snowden recently came into fame over the last decade after releasing a series of leaks from the NSA. He’s now wanted by the United States government but is currently living in Russia where he has been granted asylum. He used to work as a contractor for the NSA. He released a series of documents saying that the NSA was indiscriminately watching pretty much everybody; you didn’t even have to be doing anything wrong. Snowden said that “nearly everything a user typically does on the internet” was monitored, whether it be “the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.”
All it takes to get under the surveillance of the NSA is one international phone call ever. It could be like a missionary calling home; it could be a family member in London on business or over in Japan. They can put anyone included in three hops from that person making that call under surveillance, so that’s people who talk to people, who talk to people, who talk to you. Three hops means that if one person has about 190 friends on Facebook, which is the average, and each of those friends have 190 people they’re friends with, and those 190 friends each have their own 190 friends, that adds up to 500,720,916 people. … Since they’re connected to the one suspected person through three connections or “hops,” the NSA can monitor all 500,720,916 people. They only need to suspect 64 people in the entirety of the United States and the government has everything on every American citizen: all of your calls, all of your texts, everything you’ve searched on Google, everything you’ve ever looked at on Amazon.
Everything is cataloged, and Edward Snowden’s words it “can be looked at by anyone who has access,” and that’s pretty much everyone who works there. The recent Supreme Court findings have hindered that, and they have suggested that they delete all of these records, but who’s to say whether they actually get deleted or they just put on a pretty face.
Q: What got you involved in this issue?
A: I’ve been interested in technology since I was little. I was the kid that when we upgraded from VCR to DVD player, I tried tearing apart the VCR to figure out how it worked, or tear apart the old computer, and very seldomly did they actually get put back together. But I really liked looking at those things, and I’ve always been concerned about privacy. As new technology comes forth, what is our data being used for has been at the back of my mind. When Edward Snowden was putting out the information, it really caught my attention and really kind of pulled at those thoughts in the back of my mind of, “What is really going on? What potential dangers are there?” It kind of echoes to the scripture that in the last days our sins will be shouted from the rooftops. In my own interpretation, that can mean “shouted from the rooftops” as antennae rays, cellphone towers, data collection services.
Q: What groups or organizations are you a part of?
A: Currently the main one is the Electronic Frontier (Foundation). They have been running, I believe, for close to 30 years. Since the advent of the World Wide Web, with emails and shopping and all those kinds of things that we’ve grown just accustomed to as a part of everyday life, they’ve become kind of a watchdog for what’s going with our data, who’s using it, why are they using it and how can we protect our privacy, our data and our families. They have developed a lot of different softwares and programs, working with coders to help people, in general, to be more protected on the internet.
Q: Why is this a concern for Americans?
A: As members of The Church (of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), we believe in the doctrine of repentance; we believe in forgiveness. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states, “I, (the Lord,) will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” With all of this data collection, anyone who has ever been trapped in different sins or cycles of addiction or anything like that, even after they have repented and moved on, Satan can try to use that data from the past to resurface and to try and destroy this person or even get them to try and revert back to those old patterns. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. For Facebook, it used to be in the terms and conditions that they could sell access to all of your data, everything you’ve ever deleted, everything you’ve messaged, to the highest bidder. If you were getting hired by a Fortune 500 company, they had the resources and money to go and get transcripts of everything you’ve ever done on Facebook. By clicking “I have read and agree,” then you agree to it, and that was the end of it and they could do what (they) wanted with your data. When something is free, you are the product.
Q: What can BYU-Idaho students do to make a change?
A: Raising awareness is as simple as starting a conversation. Especially for people who are married or engaged, having a conversation of what do we want to do with our data, what do we want to do to prepare ourselves or when children come, how do they want to use technology in the family, what principles do they want to teach their children about technology. They can look at organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and get involved that way.
There is also a series of tools that students can use, recommended by Edward Snowden. There is an app called Signal. It is end-to-end message encryption that prevents NSA collection. There is also a web browser called Tor. It is a chain VPN, which helps protect you and encrypt your data and bounces your signal around the globe a couple of times, which makes it hard for advertisers and people who would want to use your information and sell it to track you. It’s available for Mac, Windows, Android and iPhone. There are also two operating systems, TAILS and Qubes OS, which you can use when looking at your bank account or looking at your routing number or anything that could jeopardize your privacy if accessed.