Changes to US Online Surveillance Laws: Everything You Need to Know

Ever since the internet was first invented, governments and politicians all over the world have tried to enforce new laws that determine how much they’re able to police it.

In some parts of the world, internet censorship has led to corruption as governments are in control of the flow of information and the ways in which people consume it. In the West, we’re able to freely browse the internet within the fair use of the law. 

There are times when the Government has to pass through new surveillance laws to protect against attacks on the country.

If the reason for implementing harsher surveillance laws is to protect the country at a specific time of crisis, isn’t it fair that such laws should be considered for removal once this threat has dissipated? Unfortunately not.

The recent renewal and expansion of surveillance laws grant the US government more power than ever before to encroach on your privacy. In order to understand how we got here, we need to look at how internet freedom in the US changed following the introduction of the USA PATRIOT Act after 9/11. 

Changes to US Online Surveillance Laws

What is the USA PATRIOT Act? 

Weeks after the events of 9/11, Congress introduced the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act.

This was the first major surveillance law introduced in the US that made it easy for the government to spy on US citizens, legally allowing them to monitor phone and email communications and track how American citizens were using the internet. 

This works by the FBI issuing National Security Letters (NSLs) that allow agents to obtain this personal information. It’s worth noting that the PATRIOT act means NSLs don’t need to be approved by judges and those that have been issued with NSLs are legally bound by gag orders. 

Some of the most serious parts of the PATRIOT Act are due to expire in May. Many of the politicians that voted the initial act through believed the measures were temporary, but the parts of the act that were meant to expire in May have now been renewed, extended and voted through in the Senate, after an amendment that would have protected the rights of Americans was voted down. 

What do These Changes Mean for Internet Users?

Put simply, the renewal and expansion of parts of the PATRIOT act give the US government and FBI more freedom to access your information. 

Warrantless Monitoring Will Continue and Could be Expanded 

The FBI was previously able to monitor how American citizens were using the internet by issuing NSLs and this part of the USA PATRIOT Act was set to expire. Now that it’s been renewed, many people fear the powers granted to the FBI could be expanded. 

Political Surveillance

The changes to the act now mean the attorney general at the Department of Justice can access the FBI’s surveillance efforts. This has dangerous implications. There would be nothing stopping the attorney general from accessing information on political rivals or other persons of interest without a warrant. 

Threats to Your Freedom 

As the USA PATRIOT Act will continue without any of the changes that the USA FREEDOM Act wanted to enforce, the way you use the internet is now under threat. With the US government and its various agencies able to perform mass surveillance checks, American citizens are right to be worried about their privacy. 

What You Need to Do To Protect Yourself From the USA PATRIOT Act 

Understand the Implications of This Act And Stand Against It

The USA PATRIOT act is massive, made up of many small parts, and IS difficult to fully dissect. Its consequences are far reaching and you should take the time to research the USA government’s history with similar acts and how passing through something like this can be a dangerous slope.

Once you understand how dangerous this act is, make your voice heard. Contact your senator letting them know how you feel about this act; make some noise on social media networks; spread the word amongst your friends and families.

The government hopes that major changes such as these can be quietly implemented without anyone noticing. Don’t let them. 

Protect Your Online Identity Using a VPN 

If the FBI (or anyone else) wants to keep track of what you’re up to then most of the information it’ll need will come directly from your ISP. There’s an easy way to protect yourself against this: use a VPN.

By connecting your devices to a VPN, your internet traffic is encrypted and your ISP won’t see any of your activity. That means if the FBI does ever come knocking, your ISP won’t have anything useful to give them. 

There are lots of VPNs out there, each with their own unique benefits, so be sure to read up on the ones that are best suited for you by checking out our top VPNs here.