As a software developer, I am not overly concerned that the NSA is watching everything I do. Because, I can tell you directly, software developers are incompetent, and creating even a small program that does something useful takes a long time.
I don’t know how the NSA gets data from the various companies (Google, Facebook et. al.), but I am sure it’s not through some direct feed. The amount of data would be overwhelming and the gov’t goons wouldn’t know how to process it anyway. It is all Facebook and Google can do to process their own data, knowing the algorithms and data structures and paying thousands of skilled people at their company to make sense of it. Third-party people outside the company wouldn’t stand a chance of processing even a millionth of it.
Instead, it must be as others have surmised: these big tech companies are told by the gov’t to give them X records/metadata and then they fork it over in a digestible lump. Disturbing? Yes. Real-time, direct access to your emails–as you type them!–not so much.
Now, what is still scary is something Snowden mentioned: your email or phone call metadata triggers an alert: you used some keywords or called a number that at one time was questionable in some way. Now there is “reasonable cause”–perhaps–to begin tracking your communications more closely. The gov’t doesn’t have the chops to intensely scrutinize 400 million people, but five or ten thousand? Sure. And if you get on that list, whether because the IRS detected the word “tea party” or “pro-life” in your email or because you called a wrong number that happened to be a bad dude of some kind, now you are being watched closely, and perhaps that information will be useful against you one day.
It’s clear that what began under Bush has metastasized under Obama. In this regard, he is in fact worse than Bush, as difficult as that fact is for his supporters to admit. He promised that he wouldn’t spy on Americans, and now that we know he has been, he stands up there and blandly defends his hypocrisy with the usual rhetorical garbage that his opponents saw through six years ago. Obama is not principled: whether on pro-life, or on the Constitution, or on war.
Make no mistake though: as much as I think Obama’s actions have been and are awful, if a Republican president is elected next, unless we the people loudly oppose these intrusions by the gov’t, a Republican will take the baton from Obama and run with it. All of them think that they will only use this power for good, but like the One Ring, it corrupts anyone. Gandalf knew that and refused the Ring. Obama did not, nor will the next Republican president, unless we stand up against this today.
For now, take hope in software developer incompetence, and security through obscurity. There are hundreds of millions of Americans. Shuffle in a single-file along with us other drones and you *probably* won’t be singled out for further “observation.”
As a postscript, I interviewed in college with the CIA and I think with the NSA. I almost went to work for them. Glad that I didn’t, now.