After the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in 2001, the US government started passing a series of laws that established the framework for mass surveillance. The world became aware of the extent of surveillance and threats to privacy in 2013, when Edward Snowden a former CIA contractor, leaked confidential information regarding the programs implemented not only by the US government, but also by the governments in other countries like Australia and the United Kingdom.
The documents revealed by Snowden showed that government agencies were involved in large scale collection of data, and monitoring activities of millions of people. The participation of major companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and AOL was also exposed. These corporations provided personal information about their users to the NSA. The data handed over includes emails, instant messages and browsing activities. How did the US government created the legal framework to support its surveillance programs? Let’s take a look at this.
USA PATRIOT Act
USA PATRIOT Act stands for Uniting And Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. This was the initial legislation that granted law enforcement the power to monitor communications and online activities. It gave authorities the power to intercept calls, check emails, browsing activities, collect banking and credit information and more. Thanks to the Patriot Act, government agencies in the United States also obtained the power to share information concerning terrorist threats. The issue with the Patriot Act is that the government took advantage of it and used it as a way to collect and process highly confidential information about millions of citizens. In other words, with the excuse of protecting the country and preventing terrorist attacks, the US government used the Patriot Act to be able to spy on people without the need of a court warrant.
A former employee of telecommunications provider AT&T also revealed that the company copied all emails and kept records of the browsing activities of its customers. The information was then handed over to the NSA. Instead of focusing on individuals suspected of being involved in terrorism activities, the NSA has managed to get access to the communications of everyone in the United States. This power was gained through the USA Patriot Act, the first legal mechanism that compromised privacy, enabling mass surveillance on regular citizens.
United States Gag Order
The United States Gag Order prevents the recipient (this could be a company, for example) from disclosing that it has received the subpoena. Along with the USA Patriot Act, the Gag Order has allowed the government to pressure companies to monitor their users secretly.
USA Freedom Act
Approved by the US Congress in 2015, the USA Freedom is set to impose restrictions on the NSA’s surveillance powers. Although the USA Freedom Act brought NSA mass monitoring to an end, it didn’t prevent private companies from collecting information. Telecom corporations are still keeping records of phone calls, emails and browsing activities. What has changed is that the NSA requires a legitimate reason to get access to the information. It can only obtain it by providing reasonable suspicion that the person, account or device in question, is linked to terrorism.
The US Patriot Act in combination with the CISA and the Gag Order have a negative impact on privacy protection laws. Due to this legislation, the United States is considered as one of the countries where privacy is at higher risk. Although it is important to keep in mind that the Patriot Act and Gag Order are only used by the government in the most critical situations, when national security is under threat, it is understandable that many people feel worried about the implications of these measures for their own security.
Here is a list of providers based outside the United States, that can offer stronger privacy policies to keep your information safe.
Based in Panama, NordVPN is a provider that offers all the necessary features to keep your privacy protected and to get around blocks. They support high grade encryption and advanced features such as Tor over VPN and double VPN encryption, which will ensure that your online activities are not monitored by third parties. NordVPN accepts Bitcoin and it is a zero logs provider, meaning that it doesn’t keep logs of your activities or other aspects of the way in which you use their VPN. They have servers in over 60 countries.
ExpressVPN operates from the British Virgin Islands, a Caribbean island where there are no laws that could jeopardize your privacy. You can connect to thousands of servers in over 90 countries and enjoy amazing speeds. With ExpressVPN, you can stream or download content, or play games without dealing with threats to the privacy and security of your information, and without sacrificing speed. They have top quality software and a 30-day money back guarantee. In addition, they don’t keep logs of your traffic and accept Bitcoin as method of payment.
Hide.me is based in Malaysia and it has a strong commitment to privacy and security. Apart from securing data with strong encryption, this provider has fast servers that will allow you to get around restrictions. The service also stands out thanks to its reliability and you can expect excellent speeds to stream, browse or download content. The apps are excellent and Hide.me is also a no logs provider that supports obfuscation technology and convenient features like SOCKS5 proxy and port forwarding.
PureVPN is a popular provider based in Hong Kong that gives you the chance to connect to servers in over 190 countries. This gives you many options to access international content. PureVPN doesn’t keep logs of your activities and it uses strong encryption to help you to protect your data from surveillance, hacking and other threats. The plans are affordable and the speeds are good enough for streaming and more.
AirVPN was established by a group of activists, lawyers and privacy experts in Italy. The service is focused on offering protection for users’ privacy and its network features hundreds of servers in over 20 countries. AirVPN supports high encryption with OpenVPN over SSH and OpenVPN over SSL. AirVPN also offers technology that can help you to hide the fact that a VPN is in place so that you can get around firewalls. AirVPN supports anonymous payment methods, like the other options mentioned in the list.