(Cross-post from my other blog, Nonprofit Update.)
Recent news reports indicate federal intelligence agencies are gathering up a lot more information than we knew. That data is available to undisclosed lists of unknown people and will be retained for a very long time.
Here’s just a few circumstances in which you might not want access to your data by a long list of unidentified persons from various federal, state, or local agencies who were granted access to various unidentified parts of the various databases:
- Your NPO staff are working in closed countries (the buzzword is tentmaking).
- Your NPO is working in countries with severe rules that make it nearly impossible to function so you are probably doing some things that aren’t quite legit under either their law or U.S. law or both (if you are in this category, you know who you are – others don’t know what I’m talking about).
- You carefully thread the needle of simultaneously complying with U.S. laws that forbid bribery and simultaneously getting work done in a country where everything other than breathing requires a bribe and you think you are doing a reasonably good job of obeying the law.
- Your NPO works in a country with serious currency restrictions and you have to hand-carry currency in or out to keep your programs functioning. Not only is that possibly in violation of currency laws of one or several countries, talking about it back and forth and coordinating the currency movement could meet the definition of conspiracy in the U.S.
- You are calling/texting/emailing your attorney about strategy to deal with a lawsuit from or against the government.
- You are talking to a reporter or a reporter talking to a source, especially from inside any government agency.
- You oppose policies of the federal government (make special note Occupy movement, environmental activists, nuclear energy opponents, and anyone engaged in direct action).
- You are trying to move federal policy in a direction you favor (take note anyone engaged in any social issue).
- You are working with people who really don’t want to be found (take note those helping human trafficking refugees, residents of domestic abuse shelters, refugees in immigration sanctuaries, and frightened witnesses in criminal trials).
- Your exempt organization works with people who oppose the policies of countries friendly to the U.S. (take note anyone whose affiliates or grant recipients disagree with the policies of Israel).
- You are in the midst of a high-profile divorce case.
- You are conducting a major legal investigation against individuals in the government.
Notice my examples cut across political, ideological, and religious lines?
You don’t have to be breaking the law to have a legitimate concern over who knows what you say while using technology or where you are.