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In a previous article on the explosive revelations on the NSA's spying program, I outlined how the Tor browser can allow you to surf the internet anonymously. Tor is much safer then the commonly used browsers such as Chrome or Internet Explorer, as Tor uses both encryption as well as as a series of global relay nodes, so prying eyes (or machines)  cannot track what web sites you are visiting or what your IP address is. For those who want to further understand Tor's capabilities and how it works, do visit the website at

Today I want to follow-up on the Tor piece by outlining what exactly it is that the NSA is collecting online. US Government officials have claimed they are not truly "spying" on Americans because they are only collecting so-called "metadata", rather then reading the actual contents of your e-mails. Therefore, say various Government officials, there is nothing dangerous or sinister about the various NSA data collection programs - "move along, there's nothing to see here" as it were.

In my opinion, however, internet metadata is extraordinarily revealing about you, probably even more so then phone metadata. In fact, it is not going too far to say that the collection of internet metadata is barely any different then if the NSA were actually reading the contents of your e-mails. Here is a basic overview of internet metadata the NSA is collecting on you:

  • Information on whom you send e-mails to and whom you receive them from. This means the NSA captures information appearing on the 'To,' 'From' or 'Bcc' lines of your emails.
  • Your IP logs
  • What websites you are visiting and what ads you are clicking on
This may not sound like much at first glance, but think about what it allows the Government to gather about you. They can discover what are you reading about, what may suddenly pique your curiosity, any online forums with which you engage, and what types of ads you are responding to. And, of course, just by looking at the To, From, cc and Bcc lines on your e-mails, the NSA pretty much has a comprehensive road map of your life and all of your relations. For example, let's say you consistently visit and e-mail sites dealing with debt - they know you may have some financial issues; or maybe various medical sites and doctors offices - then they know what health issues you have. Indeed, by capturing your internet and e-mail metadata, the NSA has a much clearer picture of your life and relationships then your own family does.

Now, having said this, it does not necessarily mean that the NSA is literally collecting online on each person (although even then we cannot say for sure), but at a minimum the Government possesses the capability to pull together and assemble this information whenever they choose. Keep this in mind the next time you hear the argument that "it's just metadata". 

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