ACLU files suit over NSA data collection, and is it possible to keep your personal data personal?

Chairman and Vice Chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) speak about the National Security Agency (NSA) on June 6, 2013 in Washington, DC.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government over its collection of phone data.

Chris Soghoian, principal technologist of the ACLU's speech privacy and technology project, says the NSA's secret data gathering violates the First and Fourth Amendments.

"It may chill speech, it may prevent people from calling us, it may lead us to take steps to protect our communications or not engage in certain kinds of speech," Soghoian says. "It is an illegal intrusion into our private matters, and then we also believe it violates the surveillance statute itself."

Seghoain says the original provision that passed Congress was meant to allow access to records of suspected terrorists, not to giant troves of digital data.

Meanwhile, more than 80 organizations that include Reddit, Mozilla, and the American Library Association have formed a campaign called Stop Watching Us. They are asking Congress to publicly disclose the full extent of the NSA's surveillance programs.

So, what if you want to achieve some level of online privacy on your own? Turns out it’s not so easy. Even if you're able to encrypt your data as it makes the rounds, you don't have a much control over it after that.

"I could send my credit card number to you, and you leave it in some unsecured database, unencrypted, and it's just defeated the purpose," says Michael Sutton, vice president of security research at the firm Zscaler.

Though Sutton acknowledges you can’t protect your privacy 100 percent of the time, he recommends limiting the use of public networks and seeking out secured websites.

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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