Australians are likely to have been caught up in a US spy agency program designed to track people's movements, according to surveillance experts.
Major technology companies including Microsoft, Google and Facebook are allowing the US National Security agency and the FBI to tap directly into their servers to conduct surveillance, according to reports in the Washington Post and the Guardian.
A leaked presentation detailing the classified program, called PRISM, suggests the organisations knowingly participated in the intelligence gathering exercise, though all have denied this was the case.
Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple are all listed as participants in the program, which according to the reports was established in 2007 to extract audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs.
The revelation that this type of surveillance is happening was unsurprising said Brian Lovell, research director of the security & surveillance research group at the University of Queensland.
He said it was not likely to be broad area surveillance, but much more like a traditional wire tap targeted at individuals. He agreed that given the organisations involved, Australians would probably have been affected.
"Anything from Australia to Europe goes via the US ... US-based companies still control most of the internet."
The surveillance would only impact unencrypted data, said IT security expert Craig Wright, who is an adjunct lecturer at Charles Sturt University.
"If people start encrypting all their traffic then it will go away," he said.
He added that some simple practices such as encrypting Gmail and not storing everything would deny organisations like the NSA a simple path to surveillance.
Wright said it was also worth considering the economic reality of monitoring a large group of people.
"I don’t think people realise just how much data is out there. For them to capture everything they would basically need to stop the whole US economy and put it just to capturing data. And that doesn’t even get to analysing it."
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