With FBI snooping on social media, how to protect privacy

The FBI is finding new ways to eavesdrop by intercepting Internet, wireless, and VoIP communications. CNET's Sumi Das breaks down what you need to know.

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To say that the FBI had its work cut out for it after 9/11 is an understatement. As part of its anti-terrorism efforts, the agency cozied up to telecom companies, like Verizon and AT&T. The relationship was so tight that some telecom employees actually had offices at the FBI.

This convenient arrangement paved the way for FBI agents to ultimately hand post-it notes with phone numbers to their telecom pals to find out if those accounts were worth investigating. It's the sort of stuff that makes privacy advocates shudder. And it's what Jennifer Lynch, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says we don't want to see repeated now that the FBI has created a new surveillance unit.

The recently established Domestic Communications Assistance Center (DCAC) will develop new ways to eavesdrop on our communications. The FBI has been falling behind when it comes to this particular sector of snooping since the 1980s and early 1990s, when landlines were our primary method of communicating. If you're using a traditional phone, the FBI has very few problems keeping tabs on you. Today however, we use Skype, we tweet, send messages on Facebook, and hangout on Google to communicate with our friends, family, and associates. And the FBI wants to make sure it can detect illegal activity taking place on those channels, too.

Right now, Lynch and her colleagues at EFF are finding there's a scant amount of information about this new department of the FBI. Learn what action EFF plans to take in my report above

So what protections can you take if you have privacy concerns? In a recent interview, CNET's Declan McCullagh offered the following three simple suggestions: Whole Disk Encryption, VPN, and when the option is available, turning on https, which encrypts your connection to Web sites like Twitter & Facebook for example.

About the author

    Sumi Das has been covering technology since the original dot-com boom. She was hired by cable network TechTV in 1998 to produce and host a half-hour program devoted to new and future technologies. Prior to CNET, Sumi served as a Washington DC-based correspondent, covering breaking news for CNN. She reported live from New Orleans and contributed to CNN's coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which earned the network a Peabody Award. She also files in-depth tech stories for BBC News which are seen by a primarily international audience.

     

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