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Is the CIA Spying on the Senate?

CIA spying on senate?What happens when a spy agency spies on the Congressional body that was created to keep spying in check in the first place? What are the implications of the CIA spying on the Senate?

That is exactly what Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asserts has happened.  In a scathing address to the Senate, Feinstein, who has been a strong advocate of the intelligence community in the past, accused the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of violating “the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution including the Speech and Debate clause”.

This accusation stems from an agreement between the committee and the agency to allow committee aides to review millions of confidential documents related to the post 9/11 Bush administration detention program for handling terror suspects.  In the process of reviewing these documents, staffers came across an internal review of the agency’s practices. When the CIA became aware of this, Feinstein claims they searched the network — including the committee’s internal network — and removed the documents.

Both sides have accused each other’s staffs of improper behavior and both sides are denying any wrongdoing.  Feinstein stressed that her staffers did not hack into the network to obtain them, but merely came across them in their review of the materials.  CIA Director John Brennan denied the allegations saying, “Nothing can be further [from] the truth, we wouldn’t do that. I mean that’s just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.”

I hope nothing is further from the truth, because the implications of spy agencies spying on those who oversee and contain their spying activities suggests that surveillance power has run amok and those wielding it consider themselves above the law. To me, if this turns out to be true, it is a bright red flag signaling the erosion of some of our most fundamental democratic principles. 

Perhaps Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it best: “Heads should roll, people should go to jail if it’s true.  If it is, the legislative branch should declare war on the CIA.” But first, we must figure out if there’s any truth behind the question: Is the CIA spying on the Senate?

John Sileo is an author and highly engaging speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and technology security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

NSA Angry Birds Help the Government Spy on Your Intimate Details

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nsa birdsNSA Angry Birds are Stalking You

So you’ve had a rough day at the office.  You plop down on your couch with a cold beverage nearby, ready to let the day go.  You have twenty minutes until your chicken pot pie dings, and the thought of chicken reminds you of, well… Angry Birds. Harmless fun. NOT!

While you may be enjoying a mindless game, somewhere far off in cyber land others are just beginning to work very hard.  WHO THEY ARE: advertising companies and intelligence agencies alike. WHAT THEY ARE DOING TO YOU: gathering all of the most personal data off of your mobile device: everything from your name, age, sex, location, and perhaps even your political alignment or sexual orientation—and lots more!

All of this is according to documents provided by the former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden to the New York Times.  Snowden asserts that the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters have been able to gather information from so-called “leaky apps” that give out all sorts of unintended intelligence.

Through these leaks, intelligence agencies and advertising groups are able to collect and store information on location and planning data through use of Google Maps, and access your address books, buddy lists, and telephone logs through use of posts to sites such as Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, and Twitter placed on mobile devices. 

It turns out that Big Brother is actually an NSA Angry Bird. I don’t know whether to be more upset with the NSA for scraping this information from Apps, or with the Apps themselves for scraping this information without even telling us!

This top secret NSA document (one of many released by Snowden) shows some of the activities that can be searched.

NSA top secret chart

It’s pretty much understood and accepted that apps (especially older ones) track locations and gather other data to pass on to mobile ad companies.  And we’ve known for some time that the NSA has been pursuing our mobile information, but these documents show us many more details of the “mobile surge” and the ambitious plans the agency has for using the information they gather from apps on smartphones.

Every time you use a smartphone, you need to remember you’re also really using a computer- a highly-sophisticated, highly vulnerable computer.   According to Philippe Langlois, who has studied the vulnerabilities of mobile phone networks and is the founder of the Paris-based company Priority One Security, “By having these devices in our pockets and using them more and more, you’re somehow becoming a sensor for the world intelligence community.” In other words, we are all spies for anyone who has access to our mobile phones, which includes pretty much every app we have.

So what’t the solution? None, as of right now. Until there is legislation governing what can be captured from our mobile phones, we are open game, so to speak. And that makes me angry.

John Sileo is an author and highly entertaining speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and technology security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on Rachael Ray, 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Digital Footprint: Exposing Your Secrets, Eroding Your Privacy

Does your digital footprint expose your secrets to the wrong people? 

National Public Radio and the Center for Investigative Reporting recently presented a four part series about privacy (online and off) called, Your Digital Trail. To get the gist of how little privacy you have as a result of the social media, credit cards and mobile technology you use, watch this accurate and eye-opening explanation of how you are constantly being tracked. 
Marketers, data aggregators, advertisers, the government and even criminals have access to a vivid picture of who you are. NPR calls it your digital trail; for years, I’ve referred to it as your digital footprint. Let’s take quick look of what makes up your digital footprint.

What is your digital footprint? 

Just like a car leaving exhaust as it runs, you leave digital traces of who you are without even knowing it. Here is a partial list of the ways that you are tracked daily: cookies on your computer, apps on your smartphone or tablet, your IP address, internet-enabled devices, search engine terms, mobile phone geo-location, license-plate scanners, email and phone record sniffing, facial recognition systems, online dating profiles, social networking profiles, posts, likes, and shares, mass-transit smart cards, credit card usage, loyalty cards, medical records, music preferences and talk shows you listen to on smartphone apps, ATM withdrawals, wire transfers and the ever-present, always rolling surveillance cameras that tell what subway you rode, what store you shopped in, what street you crossed and at what time. Is there anything, you might ask, that others don’t know about you? Not much.

What happens to your data that is tracked? 

According to NPR, a remarkable amount of your digital trail is available to local law enforcement officers, IRS investigators, the FBI and private attorneys. And in some cases, it can be used against you.

For example, many people don’t know their medical records are available to investigators and private attorneys. According to the NPR story, “Many Americans are under the impression that their medical records are protected by privacy laws, but investigators and private attorneys enjoy special access there.”  In some cases, they don’t even need a search warrant, just a subpoena. In fact, some states consider private attorneys to be officers of the court, so lawyers can issue subpoenas for your phone texts, credit card records, even your digital medical files, despite the HIPAA law.

Kevin Bankston, senior attorney with the nonpartisan Center for Democracy and Technology, explains that the laws that regulate the government regarding privacy were written back in the analog age, so the government often doesn’t have many legal restraints. When the Fourth Amendment guaranteeing our rights to certain privacies was written, our Founding Fathers weren’t thinking about computers and smartphones!

Specifically, the Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”  In the “old days” police would have had to obtain a search warrant (showing probable cause) and search your home for evidence of criminal activity.

But since the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Supreme Court and other courts have consistently ruled that if you have already shared some piece of information with somebody else, a warrant is no longer needed.  So now when you buy something with a credit card (letting your credit card company know what you’ve purchased), or drive through an intersection with license plate scanners (telling law enforcement where you’ve been) or Like something on Facebook (letting the social network and everyone else know your preferences), you have, in essence, given the government (as well as corporations and criminals) the right to gather information about you, whether you are guilty of anything or not.  So much for probable cause.

In this age of cloud computing, the issue becomes even more, well, clouded.  Take the case of a protester arrested during an Occupy Wall Street Demonstration in New York City.  The New York DA subpoenaed all of his tweets over a three and a half month period.  Of course, his lawyer objected, but the judge in the case ruled that the proprietary interests of the tweets belonged to Twitter, Inc., not the defendant!

How can we defend our digital footprint against privacy violations? 

My takeaway from the NPR piece? We are so overwhelmed by the tsunami of privacy erosion going on, by the collection, use and abuse of our digital footprints, that the surveillance economy we have created will only be resolved by broad-stroke, legislative action. Until that happens, corporations, criminals and even our government will consume all of the data we allow them to. And so will we.

John Sileo is an expert on digital footprint and a highly engaging speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and technology. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

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Welcome to the Surveillance Economy!

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traffic camera3It seems I’ve spent a lot of time lately writing about the Surveillance Economy.  This may be a strange expression to some, so I’ll define it as the use and exploitation of our location information derived from traffic surveillance cameras, new technologies like Google Glass and cell phone GPS tracking, among others.  Recent topics we’ve covered include the NSA PRISM scandal, hacking Google Glass, Homeland Security’s seizures of electronic devices when crossing borders, and even drone use.  Some of those may seem to be out there in a world that doesn’t affect us directly, but here’s one that hits very close to home for anyone who owns a vehicle.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a report in July of 2013 entitled You Are Being Tracked that outlines the use of automatic license plate readers.  These devices, which can be mounted on police cars or on objects like road signs or overpasses, use small, high-speed cameras to photograph thousands of plates per minute.  They effectively collect and store information about not only vehicles of potential or known criminals, but everybody who drives a car!

The study shows that the number of license tag captures has reached the millions and that police departments can keep the records for several years or even indefinitely.  Unlike using GPS to track a car (for which a judge’s approval is needed according to a 2012 Supreme Court ruling), there are very few regulations in place governing license plate readers.  In fact, only five states have such laws.  Click here to see a map that lets you see how police in your state use license plate readers to track people’s movements.

Proponents assert that gathering such information aids in criminal investigations and is crucial sometimes in going back to solve a crime because the data can be used to place criminals at the scene.   It is also extremely efficient because officers can “maintain a normal patrol stance” while capturing up to 7,000 license plate images in a single eight-hour shift.  Harvey Eisenberg, assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland, said, “At a time of fiscal and budget constraints, we need better assistance for law enforcement.”

The program in Maryland read approximately 29 million plates in a five month period last year  and 1 in 500 of those were suspicious. Many of these were wanted for petty crimes such as having a suspended or revoked registration, or for violating the state’s emissions inspection program, but advocates stress the information could be used for aiding drug busts, finding abducted children and more.  It would even enable the IRS to verify tax deductible mileage claims against license plate scans.

The ACLU, however, argues that this “collect it all” approach that law enforcement seems to have has made it easier to create a “single, high-resolution image of our lives, whether we are guilty or not.  When you combine license surveillance with phone records, Google searches, drone images, street cameras, etc., is there really any way we can protect our privacy as innocent citizens?

The ACLU is calling for adoption of legislation and law enforcement policies that adheres to these principles:

  • License plate readers may be used by law enforcement agencies only to investigate hits and in other circumstances in which law enforcement agents reasonably believe that the plate data are relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.
  • The government must not store data about innocent people for any lengthy period. Unless plate data has been flagged, retention periods should be measured in days or weeks, not months and certainly not years.
  • People should be able to find out if plate data of vehicles registered to them are contained in a law enforcement agency’s database.
  • Law enforcement agencies should not share license plate reader data with third parties that do not follow proper retention and access principles. They should also be transparent regarding with whom they share license plate reader data.
  • Any entity that uses license plate readers should be required to report its usage publicly on at least an annual basis.

History shows us that the mass collection of detailed citizen information (even if the purpose isn’t known at the time of the collection) generally ends up being used unethically by those in power. I was reminded of that recently when I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp. Those in power at the time surveillance begins aren’t necessarily those who will abuse it in the future. Consider yourself, as a voter, forewarned and forearmed. I’d let your Congressperson know your thoughts.

John Sileo is a keynote speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to harness the power of their digital footprint. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable. 

Is Your Privacy Being Threatened by Drone Use?

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usa dronesAnd in the latest installment of “breaking news” that shouldn’t surprise you at all…

…FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III admitted that the United States has used drones over US airspace.  It was the first time an FBI official publicly admitted such a program exists, but if you want to believe pop culture (the latest Bourne installment, a recent Castle episode, the Call of Duty video game), drone use is more common than we think.

What we know:

  • Drones (or unmanned, remotely piloted aircraft) have been used since the early 1900s, for various purposes, primarily military and law enforcement, though there are increasing demands for public use.
  • The Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have both tested drones for use in investigations.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration has to approve all drone use in US airspace.
  • The FBI has requested this permission at least four times since 2010.

Mueller testified that the drone program “has been a contributing factor, one dot among many dots” to help track terrorist plots.  The other “dots” he was referring to include telephone logs and Internet records.  He continued, “You never know which dot is going to be the key…but you want as many dots as you can. And if you close down a program like this, there will be … fewer dots to connect.”

Members of Congress immediately began clamoring for “transparency” from Mueller as to how specifically drones have been used, which he declined to provide, stating, 
“There is a price to be paid for that transparency…I certainly think it would be educating our adversaries as to what our capabilities are.” He also noted that drone use is “very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs”.

Does it affect our privacy?

Senators sure seem to think so.  Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, inquired what kinds of protections the FBI has put in place in regards to how information is used by federal investigators.  She called drones “the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans.”

Another area of concern involves the policies about drone use.  The problem?  There really aren’t any firm policies yet.  Mueller said the FBI was in the “initial stages” of writing policies.  “We’re exploring not only the use but also the necessary guidelines for that use,” he added.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-CO supports the notion that drones can be helpful with law enforcement agencies, but stressed that Constitutional rights must be protected first.  Udall said, “I am concerned the FBI is deploying drone technology while only being in the ‘initial stages’ of developing guidelines to protect Americans’ privacy rights.”

Is the FBI putting the proverbial cart before the horse by implementing drone use before policies are in place?  Do we need to honor the need for “non-transparency” for our own safety?  Should we be afraid of drones and their threat to our privacy?  Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington, wrote in the Huffington Post that drones “could be just the visceral jolt society needs to drag privacy law into the 21st century.”  Maybe it will take the notion of truly being watched without our knowledge anywhere, anytime, to lead to real change.

Keeping Grounded When the Surveillance Accusations Start to Fly

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NSAI’m in the business of encouraging people to keep their guard up.  I’m always telling people to watch for signs of something that doesn’t feel quite right, take precautionary measures, and stay informed.  But even I have to question the tactics some are recommending when it comes to reacting to the NSA PRISM surveillance program leaked by Edward Snowden.  In a previous post on this topic, I said it isn’t a black or white argument, but some people are asking you to make it one.

Best-selling author, technology expert and Columbia Law School professor, Tim Wu, has said that web users have a responsibility to quit Internet companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and Skype if it is indeed verified that they have been collaborating with the NSA.  In fact, Wu bluntly proclaimed, “Quit Facebook and use another search engine. It’s simple.  It’s nice to keep in touch with your friends. But I think if you find out if it’s true that these companies are involved in these surveillance programs you should just quit.”  Wu acknowledged that there is still much to learn about this program and admitted it was no surprise that PRISM exists, saying, “When you have enormous concentrations of data in a few hands, spying becomes very easy.”

Of course, the companies in question vehemently deny such complicit cooperation.  Google CEO Larry Page stated, “any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said reports of Facebook’s involvement are “outrageous,” adding  “Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the U.S. or any other government direct access to our servers.”  Yahoo’s Ron Bell stated, “The notion that Yahoo! gives any federal agency vast or unfettered access to our users’ records is categorically false.”  Similar statements were issued by from spokespersons for Apple, Microsoft and others accused of complying.

To add fuel to the fire of this debate, top US intelligence officials have stepped forth with their own comments.  US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asserts the National Security Agency’s PRISM program is “not an undisclosed collection or data mining program” but instead “an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government’s statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information.”

In addition, claims that the sweeping surveillance programs have prevented multiple attacks keep swelling.  Immediately following the leak, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers cited one attack that he said was thwarted by the program, but would not give specifics.  Since that time, however, there have been dozens of reports of foiled terrorist attempts, from a plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange to an attack against the New York subway system, that were prevented because of the surveillance.  Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, said more than 50 attacks have been averted.  Alexander also stated that Snowden’s leaks have caused “irreversible and significant damage to this nation” and undermined the U.S. relationship with allies.

No doubt, the debate over the propriety, as well as the effect, of Snowden’s actions will rage on for some time.  There will be others who recommend and take drastic actions, such as quitting the Internet giants, for fear of their safety and/or privacy.  The key is to keep cool, find the facts and then NOT forget. The biggest risk is that our discomfort will be forgotten in a week when the next big topic arises. You can take the reasonable steps of doing your research, acting in calculated moderation and following through on what YOU feel is important.

John Sileo is a keynote speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to harness the power of their digital footprint. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable.

Talking Surveillance Once Again–Know Your Phone Carrier More Precisely

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phone moneyWhen you log onto the Verizon Precision Market Insights website, the giant catch phrase that jumps out at you in bold red letters is:

“Know your audience more precisely.

Drive your business more effectively.”

Verizon is pulling no punches when it comes to letting advertisers know that they have valuable data- OUR data- and they’re willing to share it.  For a price of course.  Phone carriers, who see a continued decline in contract subscriber growth and voice calls, are hoping to generate new sources of revenue by selling the data they collect about us.  They already collect information about user location and Web surfing and application use (which informs them about such things as travels, interests and demographics) to adjust their networks to handle traffic better.  Now they have begun to sell this data.

Note: Verizon customers can OPT-OUT of this data sharing by logging into their accounts online and following the opt-out instructions. I recommend that you do so immediately.

Instead of seeing themselves just as providers of valuable services to their customers by providing a means of communication, carriers now see the potential profit beyond the service.  Businesses such as malls, stadiums and billboard owners can gather information about the activities and backgrounds of cellphone users in particular locations.  For example, Verizon’s data service is being used by the Phoenix Suns to map where people attending its games live “in order to increase advertising in areas that haven’t met expectations”, according to Scott Horowitz, a team vice president.

In Verizon’s own words, their analytics platforms allows companies to:

  • Understand the demographic, geographic and psychographic makeup of (their) target audience.
  • Isolate where consumer groups work and live, the traffic patterns of a target audience and demographic information about
what groups visit particular locations.
  • Learn what mobile content (their) target audience is most likely to consume so (they) can cross-sell and up-sell more easily.

The program does not include information from Verizon’s government or corporate clients and individuals do have the right to opt out on Verizon’s website.  Some European companies have launched similar programs and Jeff Weber of AT&T says they are studying ways to analyze and sell customer data while giving users a way to opt out, but at this point they do not have a similar product.

Carriers do acknowledge the privacy issues related to such data surveillance and companies say they don’t sell data about individuals but rather about groups of people. But Chris Soghoian, a privacy specialist at the American Civil Liberties Union, is worried according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.  In it, he says “the ability to profit from customer data could give wireless carriers an incentive to track customers more precisely than connecting calls requires and to store even more of their Web browsing history. That could broaden the range of data about individuals’ habits and movements that law enforcement could subpoena.  It’s the collection that’s the scary part, not the business use.”

In other words, it’s about more than well-meaning companies collecting our data; it’s that their company databases are vulnerable to attacks by hackers, competitors and foreign governments. And when a breach happens, it’s our data that goes missing.

John Sileo is a keynote privacy speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to harness the power of their digital footprint. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable. Watch John on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.

Snowden chills in Hong Kong as we boil like frogs in a stew of NSA surveillance

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snowden-hk-papers,jpgDo you value national security? Do you want to live free of fear from random terrorist acts like the Boston Marathon bombing? Do you value your privacy? Should you be allowed to act in legal ways without others (namely, the government) digitally eavesdropping on your secrets?

A former data spy is asking us to decide where we stand on the spectrum separating security and privacy. Edward Snowden, 29, a former contractor to the National Security Agency (the guys and gals in charge of wire-tapping phones and internet traffic) and an employee of the CIA, leaked classified documents to reporters about two far-reaching U.S. surveillance programs. Fearing government reprisal, Snowden is hiding in Hong Kong, a country he believes has “a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”.

Here’s what happened. Snowden provided reporters at The Guardian and The Washington Post with top-secret documents detailing two NSA surveillance programs being carried out by the U.S. Government, all without the average voter’s knowledge. One gathers hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records and the second allows the government to access nine U.S. Internet companies to gather all domestic Internet usage (your phone calls and emails, in other words). The intent of each program respectively is to use meta-data (information about the numbers being called, length of call, etc., but not the conversation itself, as far as we know) to detect links to known terrorist targets abroad and to detect suspicious behavior (by monitoring emails, texts, social media posts, instant messaging, chat rooms, etc.) that begins overseas.

In other words, close to 100% of our phone calls and internet communications are being digitally sniffed, even if we are innocent, to expose the .01% of terrorists among us. The means (ubiquitous digital surveillance) don’t seem to justify the ends (less terrorism), UNLESS it’s your child or spouse that dies in a 9/11 attack, and then you tend to fall on the side of national security while privacy seems little more than a luxury.

I’m simply saying that this isn’t a black or white argument. The right answer lies in the gray area between security and privacy – a place where checks and balances, bi-partisan oversight and transparency keep our leaders from overstepping the line that divides the highly effective from the clearly unethical.

The decision to go public on Snowden’s part came after many years of deliberation because he felt an obligation to inform the public of “the greatest danger to our freedom and way of life.”  While Director of National Intelligence James Clapper counters that they do not target U.S. citizens, Snowden maintains that there is still a good chance the system will be abused. He states, “Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with.” In other words, if we don’t control the degree to which our private information is now collected in small, apparently insignificant pieces, the surveillance stew will have parboiled our privacy before we fully recognize what has happened.

Snowden’s actions have put the Obama administration into defensive mode, having to justify the legal grounds for secret phone snooping and data mining. Chief White House correspondent Major Garrett said, “…the White House has had to admit a politically and tactically startling truth: It conducts more surveillance than the Bush White House.

House Republican leader Rep. Eric Cantor, acknowledging that the NSA programs, as set up, were legal, said that an investigation this week on Capitol Hill into the NSA programs “will be very serious, obviously. We’ll be dealing with a balance between national security and safeguarding our civil liberties.”

Snowden has stated that he will not hide despite the fact that the government could charge him with treason and he may face years in prison for his actions.  He is even aware there could be threats to his life, stating (I will be) “made to suffer for my actions, and that the return of this information to the public marks my end”. He is hopeful Hong Kong will refuse to extradite him, and he will “ask for asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy.”

At the risk of boiling a cliché to death, is Snowden a traitor, or just a sacrificial frog willing to take the heat on our behalf?

John Sileo is a keynote speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to harness the power of their digital footprint. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable.

What Do Mitt Romney and Duchess Kate Have in Common?

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Privacy. Or lack of it, to be specific. This past week, nude photos of Duchess Catherine (formerly Kate Middleton) were published in several French tabloids. The photos were taken from hundreds of meters away using sophisticated photographic equipment to capture a moment meant to be highly private.

Also this week, Mitt Romney was secretly videotaped at a small fundraising event dismissing 47% of the electorate as victims who take advantage of government and the taxation system.

Put aside for a minute what you think of Kate or Mitt, and ask yourself what you BELIEVE about our right to privacy.

Some people say that in the digital surveillance age, you are naive to think that anything is private. Everything outside of your own walls is fair game. But Romney and the Duchess thought that they were operating inside of their own walls. Others argue that we are entering a dangerous age of constant surveillance, and that the government and corporations are gaining too much access to our images, words and thoughts.

I believe that both statements are true: the reality is that there is very little privacy left outside our own walls (and sometimes within them) and that government and corporations have too much access to our private information. But that doesn’t mean that we have to allow it to remain that way. How would your opinions change if the pictures were of your daughter rather than the Royal Family? How would you feel if your private conversation among friends showed up on CNN?

Privacy is a slippery right to nail down; it’s hard to legislate. But most of us know when it has gone too far, and by the time it has gone too far, victims like Mitt and Kate can do little to stuff the cat back into the 24/7 media darkness. Most of us will share our opinions on Kate and Mitt, but few of us will air our beliefs on privacy. If you believe in having a bit of privacy left in your life, speak out when the privacy of others is violated. Privacy will probably never be effectively governed by law, but it’s violation can be preventively discourage by social pressure. When you buy the tabloid, Google the nude photos or email blast the Romney video, you’re advocating for less privacy.

What do you think? Share your comments below.

John Sileo is an award-winning author and keynote speaker on privacy and reputation. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which advises clients on how to defend their Privacy, Identity and Reputation. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FDIC, and Homeland Security. Sample his Keynote Presentation or watch him on Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes or Fox Business. 1.800.258.8076.