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Legal and Technical Measures Work Together Against Illegal Spying

A recent Just Security article illustrates how working outside of Washington D.C. to push back against illegal NSA spying can be effective.

Corporate pushback is the latest headache for the federal surveillance state.

Apple and Google recently announced that they are designing products to make it more difficult for electronic data to be perused by government snoopers. Information will now be encrypted when devices are locked, making it difficult for the companies to comply with warranted and unwarranted surveillance. The article states that this is an especially important development.

United States-based companies are increasingly making technical decisions that thwart authorities ability to collect user data from them. These decisions include efforts to: 1) be more judicious about what user data is collected in the first place; 2) encrypt data and store it in locations that may be out of the reach of governments’ legal authorities; and 3) design access regimes such that the companies themselves cannot decrypt data and therefore cannot satisfy government requests. I call these hybrid legal-technical surveillance countermeasures because they are technical mechanisms designed explicitly to address what some see as shortcomings of current law. They complement purely technical measures, such as efforts to eliminate security vulnerabilities, and purely legal measures, such as efforts to more consistently challenge government data requests.

While the feds may not have enacted any substantial reforms since the Snowden leaks, corporations have been working to satisfy the needs of their customers. Blanket, limitless spying is not an idea that is popular with the people, especially for the tech-savvy consumers who buy products from Apple and Google. The feds make excuses while the companies create innovations that make it more difficult for the NSA to conduct its operations.

This is a great step in the right direction and indicates the unconventional OffNow strategy focusing on action outside of D.C. can be applied in more ways than just state legislation.

Inside the Beltway solutions focusing on that Washington and its immense corruption is generally a waste of time. It is typically impossible to get the attention of members of Congress unless you have five or six-figure checks to toss around. The federal system remains unresponsive to the needs of the average person. That is why we need action from the outside to protect our rights.

In the digital age, there are many ways that this can be done. New technologies or compliments to existing technologies can be developed to allay privacy concerns. The public can help support these companies when they enact important safeguards. Voting with our dollar is a better solution than showing up and voting for the two NSA-supporting major political parties. Rewarding companies that keep the privacy rights of their customers in mind by buying their products can have a huge effect toward keeping the NSA at bay.

Technological protection is another front that can help us to execute the OffNow plan. However, it is imperative for us to hit the NSA on multiple levels if we are to have success. The technological front is a legitimate one, and we can help guide that process by being educated consumers. We have legislation that punishes NSA-compliant corporations as well. The market system is far more responsive than the monolithic tone-deaf federal system, and our measure can add even more pressure on corporations.

Working through state legislatures can yield tie up the NSA and impede federal spying. For example, in the first year of our operation, our comprehensive 4th Amendment Protection Act was introduced in over a dozen states. In doing so, we made national headlines. That is a good start, and we have added additional pieces of legislation this year that we will be pushing throughout the country. These are the legal measures that can assist the technical measures taken by corporations like Apple and Google.

Help us and together, we can grind the NSA down and make it impossible to function in its present form.

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