Our digital footprints

By Ken Esten Cooke— As the U.S. pursues Edward Snowden around the globe for spilling intelligence secrets while working at the National Security Administration, some questions about our digital footprints come to mind.

Snowden has been called a traitor by Senate Republicans and Democrats. His recent revelation that he chose to work for the contractor specifically to get the information he disclosed and his choice of countries where he seeks asylum certainly bolster that claim. Yet others of a more libertarian bent have lined up to call him a hero, as he has shed light on the underbelly of terror surveillance where everyday citizens can be monitored in a story line that could not have been better written by George Orwell.

Hero or goat, his situation poses a good time for the country to examine how our government monitors terror threats and how we leave our own digital trail with our daily use of devices.

When registering new software or even downloading a simple phone app, we are asked to check a box that gives companies permission to monitor and use our information in myriad ways. We freely give this information, but would understandably be cautious to check a second box if we knew our information would be monitored by the government.

In truth, we, especially younger generations, leave a trail of digital information 24/7, from Twitter, to Facebook,  to Instagram, complete with demographic profiles and location information. We freely give information with little thought to how it will be used, other than maybe receiving an annoying marketing email or text message now and then.

Yet there is a much more disturbing element when we know government has this “metadata” — phone numbers called, emails sent, web sites visited — all part of the PRISM monitoring program that can assist, and has helped, deter more than one terror attack, according to bipartisan lawmakers.

Government claims that businesses do not keep this metadata on their servers long enough to form a needed trail, so they have copied it all onto their servers. They claim no information is pursued unless threats arise.

But government asking us to trust them is not reassuring. Now is a good time to seek some middle ground where terror activity can be monitored, yet citizens feel safe from prying eyes. As our use of digital devices grows, so grows our digital trail of information, and that only means more chance of a dishonest use of it.

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