Revelations that the U.S. government has been snooping on Internet users worldwide failed to shock global netizens, who say they've already given up on expectations of online privacy in the face of growing surveillance from governments and private companies.
From London to Quito, Ecuador, Web users said they already carefully limit the information they include in emails or post on social networks such as Facebook. Many also said they had already assumed governments were regularly spying on online activity as part of counter-terrorism efforts.
"It doesn't surprise me one bit. They've been doing it for years," said Jamie Griffiths, a 26-year-old architect working on his laptop in a London cafe. "I wouldn't send anything via email that I wouldn't want a third party to read."
Still, some said they were outraged that their privacy had been violated.
"The American government has no right to read or intercept any messages I send on Facebook," said 15-year-old Julio Fernandes, of Sao Paulo, as he thumbed the keyboard of his smartphone. "This will probably change how I use the Internet. I imagine it will for many Brazilians."
According to a U.N. report released this week, governments worldwide have increasingly been tapping into online personal data.
Leaked confidential documents show the U.S. National Security Agency and the FBI have been sifting through the personal data of people worldwide by directly accessing the servers of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, AOL, Skype, PalTalk and YouTube. U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday that the surveillance didn't apply to U.S. citizens or others living in the U.S.
"I think the American government has always collaborated with these companies, and for me it's not so strange," said Angui Moussa, a community manager for a website and social media firm in the Ivory Coast. "The threat that the American government fights everyday—they use many means at the security level to make profiles of those who might threaten them."
The governments of China, Bahrain and other nations already aggressively oversee online activity, in many cases putting people in prison for political blog posts and other messages.
Israel's attorney general in April upheld a practice allowing security personnel to read email accounts of suspicious individuals when they arrive at the airport, arguing it prevents militants from entering the country.
The U.N. report said such activity has been expanding as technology advances, and that countries should prioritize protecting people's online rights.
"In order to meet their human rights obligations, States must ensure that the rights to freedom of expression and privacy are at the heart of their communications surveillance frameworks," the report reads.
For Hernan Rodriguez, who heads a top Ecuadorean government technology project, the recent case shows Internet users worldwide are especially vulnerable to U.S. government surveillance since many of the servers used by globally popular tech companies sit on U.S. territory.
"This happens because of the technological dependency that we have maintained in the countries of the south, of not having the real capacity to keep our own servers for critical information and safeguard the privacy of every citizen," Rodriguez said.
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