NSA Stealing Cookies From Google, No, Not Sugar Cookies

NSA Stealing Cookies From Google, No, Not Sugar Cookies

It may not be the cookies you lay out for Santa or the kind that gives you diabetes from mass consumption, but the NSA is stealing cookies or, more accurately, using them to spy on users. Now when I say “cookies”, I’m referring to the kind used by websites, not the freshly baked kind. Cookies are used by nearly every website on the Internet and the NSA has found a way to exploit cookies, especially Google’s cookies.

According to TechCrunch and the Washington Post, “the National Security Agency secretly targets suspects using the same tool that allows advertisers to target consumers — small files known as ‘cookies.’” …Google’s cookies don’t track personal information, such as name or email address. However, they can identify a user’s browser activity, which is why some users may see an ad for a product they’ve searched for previously on the web.”

For example, the NSA can use this information to help pinpoint a target’s location or even use it to track communications so they can later “send out software that can hack that person’s computer,” according to The Washington Post. (I would like to point out that the cookie itself can’t hack computers. It’s only a text file, but it does collect information on the user.)

“…On a macro level, ‘we need to track everyone everywhere for advertising’ translates into ‘the government being able to track everyone everywhere,” UC Berkeley Law Lecturer Chris Hoofnagle told The Post. “It’s hard to avoid.” (Washington Post)

So what are the implications of this for the average user? Obviously, don’t become a terrorist or play with anything with enough bang to take out a building. You can try to opt out of using cookies altogether but then you’re going to have a hard time logging into Facebook or your email. It’s unavoidable and yet there are serious implications behind government surveillance that has such broad oversight that it includes cookie spying or spying within games.

This particular tactic of using cookies for tracking is geared more towards a “specific target” but then what does it take to be considered a target when the NSA has no problem doing a mass collection of cellphone records without a warrant?

In addition, there are reports that NSA violations went unchecked for at least three years “because no one understood the rules” or “had a full technical understanding of how its system worked.”

It’s almost impossible to avoid having a digital trail, but does that mean we should have a colossal, federally-funded, clandestine agency collecting information without restraint? Especially one that acts like Barney Fife with access to James Bond-esque gear.

“We already know that the government is intent on invading our privacy,” wrote Sen. Paul in an Op-Ed for The Hill in June. “If people start mistaking Google for government, then we’ve got a problem. People can’t begin to mistake Gmail for ‘Government Mail.'”

“…Authoritarian regimes abroad are always seeking to clamp down on Internet freedom precisely because they fear the free exchange of information. We should be condemning them, not emulating them at home.”

Are we paying tax dollars to fund ‘Big Brother’? Why has it gotten to the point where we have to be concerned about the government “stealing cookies” of all things?

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