If your emails, files, images, videos are with a US company, you have reason to be worried

Irrespective of your political leanings and your opinions, I think it is very important to consider your data and accounts with companies operating out of the US. Especially if you are a business with competition within the US.

You may or may not be in support of the current administration in the US. But if you have your data — emails (gmail, yahoo, etc.), documents (dropbox, box, google drive, etc.), your images and videos (snapchat, facebook, instagram, etc.), chats (whatsapp, messenger, etc.) — with American companies, you will want to be wary.

Even without the shadow of the current actions, there have been many transgressions into people’s privacy in the United States via technology companies. Twitter recently blogged about “two national security letters (NSLs). These NSLs were accompanied by gag orders when they were served (one in 2015, one in 2016), preventing us from notifying the impacted account holders or publicly disclosing their existence.” Yahoo and Google also published similar articles. Microsoft has thus far denied that they have been forced to add a backdoor into their operating systems and other software by American law enforcement. However, that’s exactly what they would say if there was also a gag order. The NSA meanwhile has defended its right to software backdoors. It is to be presumed then, even without evidence, that every software product can be infiltrated and controlled thus.

I understand that as a country it needs to take actions to protect itself and provide security for its citizens. But I don’t see it stopping there. If elevating the head of an apparently unreliable, racist, and biased media outlet with many other business interests to the National Security Council is any indication, things aren’t looking very good. Even if there were elements of self interest for America with these actions, there aren’t any for people and organizations outside the US. Specifics of some of the orders to the US-European Union Privacy Shield are still being debated. But whichever way the creases are going to be ironed out, there is a need to address the vulnerability of corporate and personal data.

Your data is stored on computers somewhere and it will be subject to the laws of the country in which it resides. For the most popular services, that is mostly the US. And so far, the US has not proven to be trustworthy with the information they can control. As Edward Snowden exposed, the security agencies are spying on their own citizens and attempting to manipulate and control them. If you are from another country, you can be assured that they won’t draw the line just before you. If they wanted to spy on you and manipulate you, they could and will.

First, what about companies and businesses? From what I’m seeing in the news, the current US government has a lot of businessmen with vested interests. It is alleged that Trump has a stake in the oil pipeline that he approved, also a stake or kickbacks in an arctic oil drilling project that he green lighted, he has apparently not put on a ban list countries where he has business relations, has repeatedly peddled his hotels via politics, and lots more which speak of corruption and bad ethics. If your companies are using services like gmail, yahoo, hotmail, dropbox, gdrive, etc., do you think that people with vested interests in the government could get access to it? Do you think deals involving Hyundai, Toyota, or Tata are going to be snooped on by vested auto industry interests in the US administration? With the extensive protectionist policies that are being put together, do you think there will be people with special access into the data and emails of an Infosys or Wipro? Apparently the FBI has far reaching powers within the entire country. During the elections, it is again alleged, that Trump or Russian cronies sat on explosive information they had while leaking/exposing much lesser relevant information about their opponent because it suited a lot of people in power. If that were true, what do you think the same people will do for a cut of a business that is being discussed on your emails and documents? This whole thing sounds alarmist. Yet, history is replete with political oligarchies, plutocracies, or corporatocracies slowly controlling all businesses and deals with access to the influential or to powerful information. Today, deals are done via technology, and that is predominantly owned by US companies which can be controlled by businessmen who are part of the power circle. That should give you pause.

And then, what about individuals? The same as those in other countries where there are a few with extensive powers. Or as chillingly written in the George Orwell book 1984. We are just citizens and individuals in it at the mercy of those in authority.

Even under this situation, we don’t currently have great alternatives. A few US companies have wiped out competition. Their products are often very good and I use many of them, but it has today left us with nary an option. At least for the individual. For companies that can afford to put up an alternative, it probably is something to be looked at.

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