babyInternet users – time to grow up. The US National Security Agency (NSA) has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top-secret documents. The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says. This is outrageous?

Some of the world’s largest internet brands are claimed to be part of the information-sharing program since its introduction in 2007. Microsoft – which is currently running an advertising campaign with the slogan “Your privacy is our priority” – was the first, with collection beginning in December 2007. It was followed by Yahoo in 2008; Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and finally Apple, which joined the program in 2012. The program is continuing to expand, with other providers due to come online. Collectively, the companies cover the vast majority of online email, search, video and communications networks.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Friday that his company has never participated in a program to give any government direct access to its servers (but perhaps indirect? – come-on Mark don’t fool us.). Most other Internet giants (Google, Apple, Microsoft…) chimed in and made the same claims – click here. This whole outrage was ignited by the Verizon revelation, about the scale of surveillance by the intelligence services. Unlike the collection of those call records, this surveillance can include the content of communications and not just the metadata.

Like you, at first I was outraged by this, but I got to thinking. Today we live in an age where we are being watched through CCTV video cameras everywhere. Police departments and other government agencies are installing cameras at a deafening pace. When we step out on the street, in a public area, the reality is, you are being watched. Should we disconnect all the cameras? Just think of how much crime would go unsolved if we did this. Would you feel safer? And what about the inverse. Everyone has a smart phone now with a camera. Abusive police will be caught immediately nowadays and get posted on YouTube. Having cameras in place can have good effects as well.

The biggest issue for the Internet public safety is cyber crime – currently at $100 Billion per year and exponentially growing. Not so much the terrorism as the government claims. Having some Internet surveillance can be a good thing. Those that do not think this way have yet to fall into Internet fraud. But here is the point. Any Internet surveillance programmes should have strict controls and oversight, on what information is collected and what it is used for, that has its techniques totally transparent and publicly agreed, in order to ensure no abuses occur. Yes I understand that making these techniques public can aid criminals, but its the price we pay to live in a free society. The Obama administration having secret information gathering programmes on its citizens – even to the point of prosecuting those that would leak his secrets – is simply wrong.

People think that going online is an anonymous event. Often in chat rooms and emails, people will say and do things that they would never think of doing in real life. But the consequences can be just as devastating. The Internet is littered with countless stories of people losing jobs, marriage break ups and even causing deaths, by inappropriate postings on the Internet. Remember the golden rule of Internet behaviour:

Anything anywhere you put on the Internet can be seen – you are never completely anonymous or protected with privacy. Hopefully the information you post will only end up in the hands of its intended target – but this is a very bad assumption, and all due caution applies.

Regardless of your opinions on this, most likely this Internet surveillance is going to become a reality. When stepping out your front door, you take on certain responsibilities by being in public. Stepping onto the public Internet information highway is no different. Its time to grow up – as technology has put us into a new world – deal with it.

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