Not many of us would willingly or unknowingly give up our personal privacy, would we? Last Friday, President Trump signed a six-year renewal of the Section 702 bill that again raises that very question.
There’s not much risk in saying that most Americans don’t know what 702 is or what it says. Perhaps we should: The bill, which “reauthorizes foreign intelligence collection,” gives the feds the right to spy on foreigners overseas. In the process, however, law-abiding Americans’ private information, including email, text messages, web browsing history, social media activity and other things of that nature could be ensnared. Sort of in passing, you might say, with privacy repercussions.
Given the questions, are there answers? In other words, is there a work-around it to protect the privacy of consumers, employees, executives and the C-suite? Can corporate communications be secured from government intrusion?
Some quick history...
Section 702 was first passed as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act in 2008, a revision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. It allows the U.S. to spy on foreigners overseas and as written does not target Americans. But oftentimes that’s not how it works in practice: Information on Americans’ online communications can be swept up as well.
For what it’s worth, President Trump has contended that the 702 bill is “not the same FISA law that was so wrongly abused during the election.” But, critics say, the tweaked Bill still violates the Fourth Amendment’s protections against illegal search and seizure, digital style.
“Many in the civil liberties community are hopeful that the looming Section 702 sunset will force lawmakers to consider the privacy concerns of their constituents and rein the surveillance programs under the law,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a blog post, ahead of the president's rubber stamp.
In 702’s wake, more organizations may turn to virtual private networks as an answer to privacy concerns, said Marty Kamden, NordVPN chief marketing officer.
“Section 702 allows collecting the content of various communications,” he said. “It will be sufficient to use some of ‘suspicious words’ in one’s communication, and that person will be included in surveillance list -- this can also affect activists or journalists, who are communicating on sensitive topics. The Americans’ privacy is in danger, and we see it as a deeply troubling development.”
The combination of a reliable VPN service and strong encryption may afford individuals and businesses from U.S. government intrusion into their privacy, whether intended or collateral, Kamden said.
“A VPN won’t protect users from all possible means of surveillance, but by applying strong encryption, it will keep one’s online communications private and safe from the bulk collection. We recommend to use a VPN together with other privacy and security apps,” Kamden said.