NSA Surveillance and Geolocation Avoidance

Most US residents have been fully focused on local NSA surveillance in the wake of the PRISM revelations. But the NSA is still more focused on foreign threats, and this has brought to their attention the use of VPN services to access US content from outside the country. The recent release of Apple’s iTunes Radio is raising questions about whether using a VPN outside the US to access the service will put even more people under the watchful eye of the NSA.

Apple iTunes Radio

Eddy Cue, senior vice-president of Internet Software and Services at Apple, made the announcement last week that Apple’s music streaming service will launch, but will be available only in the US. It seems likely that music streaming fans who are familiar with proxy and VPN services will simply connect as usual and test out the new service with a US IP address. But adding the NSA factor might make this choice more complicated than it has been in the past.

Accessing Geoblocked Content

Many people living outside the US have used different proxy and VPN services to access geoblocked content, with varying success.Geoblocking technology uses tools that restrict access to IPs located outside the specified geolocation. US-only services like Spotify, Facebook, Hulu, Pandora, YouTube and Netflix are geoblocked in different countries, but are routinely accessed using these services that assign users a US IP address.

NSA Spying Outside the US

Proxies and VPNs are not strictly against the law, but using them to access certain services might be. If using a proxy or VPN to get to the content clearly violates the company’s terms of service, then the user is breaking the contractual agreement. In the case of iTunes, Apple makes users agree that they will not use or attempt to use the service outside US territory. Breaking this agreement provides a legitimate way in for the US government, a legal reason to spy on the user, regardless of the user’s country of origin or residence. This makes the threat of the NSA targeting proxy and VPN users worldwide very real.

Masking an IP address to be able to stream music or TV shows is quite innocent when compared to corporate espionage or stealing government secrets. It is then unlikely that the NSA would be interested in the prosecution of geolocation offenders. But the point is that the PRISM surveillance efforts work on the principle of mass collection of communications data to form connections between people. They’re no really going to go after users, but any kind of suspicious behavior, specifically where users are in violation of any kind of agreement, gives them the reason they need to gather all information possible related to that user and store it and use it however they like. This is not something most people would like to have happen to them.

What’s the Risk?

The question now is what the risk level really is when gaining access to US-only content. Proxy services are generally not very safe to use when someone is looking for you. The traffic is not well encrypted and is fairly easy to monitor. Tracing the connection back to the original IP is then also not difficult. This makes using proxy services very dangerous. VPN services have higher levels of data and traffic encryption. Tracking stops at the VPN server, so the user’s IP and identity are protected. Not all VPN services are primarily concerned with users’ privacy, however. Some VPN providers may release user information upon request by the authorities when a service like iTunes Radio claims there has been a violation of the Apple terms of service.

With the above dangers, the last question is whether attempting to access geoblocked content is still worth the risk of getting under the NSA’s radar. With a trustworthy VPN provider that puts privacy first, users have the best chance of avoiding NSA surveillance. To read more about the policies of the different providers, visit our top VPN providers page.

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