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As U.S. peeps, teens tweet

Classified federal surveillance programs unveiled last week have sparked a national debate about privacy in the United States and whether the government has gone too far by broadly collecting data.

And now, some — including the man who claims to be a former CIA employee and leaked information to British media about the telephone call surveillance program that allowed the government access to all call logs held by a Verizon subsidiary — are suggesting that Big Brother is getting bigger. So what are people doing about it?

A recent study shows that one group is becoming less worried about its information being creeped on amid privacy concerns that have been stewing for years.


They are posting photos, school names, hometowns, email addresses and cell phone numbers on their social media profiles more than ever before, according to a study by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.

The study by Pew, a nonpartisan research group, shows only 40 percent of surveyed teens express a “strong concern” about third parties accessing that information without their knowledge.

Though social media users can control the privacy of their accounts, Dan Farkas, a journalism professor at Ohio University, cautioned that almost anything posted online can be retrieved by anyone at anytime.

“In 2013, I’m not sure privacy exists anymore, at least in a digital space,” Farkas said. “The concept isn’t new. You need to assume your mom, your boss and the pope see everything you do.”

About 92 percent of teens post their real names to the profile they use most often, 84 percent post their interests, 62 percent post their relationship status and 24 percent post videos of themselves, according to the study.


“There’s a weird celebrity, reality-TV component of this where people like the idea of being known or famous,” Farkas said. “There’s this idea of, ‘I’m capturing a really cool moment,’ or, ‘Hey, look at me, this is my life; I’m my own mini star.’ ”

But sometimes, it’s more than that.

Social media is now one of the top ways to commit crime and is used as a platform for stalking, posting threats and identity theft, said Ohio University Police Department Chief Andrew Powers.

“Powerful search engines make locating information fairly easy, and a stalker can piece together bits and pieces from various social media sites to track their target's activities,” Powers said.

And one search engine company in particular — Google — is making it easier for the government to track someone’s online activity, according Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. She defended the National Security Agency’s data-mining program, known by the codename PRISM, at a news conference last week.

“It’s called protecting America,” Feinstein said of the program that — although some aspects of which remain unclear — the government says collects some information directly from servers of companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and YouTube.

That program and the telephone call log surveillance program might have public support, according to another Pew report released Monday. It shows that 62 percent of participants in a recent survey think the government should investigate possible terrorist attacks even if it intrudes on citizens privacy.

Be that as it may, tech companies are denying they gave the government "back door" access to their respective servers. Google CEO Larry Page and the company’s chief legal officer posted a letter on the tech giant’s blog Friday denying that company's involvement.

“We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday,” the letter read.

Officials from both Facebook and Apple have made similar statements, even as the government acknowledged the program’s existence and has begun to declassify some of its operations.

President Barack Obama has defended both the telephone call log surveillance program and PRISM, and he, as well as many other national figures, have called for more debate on balancing privacy and security.

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