Sent emails, "private" phone calls and tweets are a part of our culture.

Everyone is using all forms of media these days, and it has been made clear that those messages are no longer privy to you and the receiver. The National Surveillance Agency monitors large stores of raw internet data, later retrieving them if needed.

According to reports from "The Guardian," a court order against the Verizon Business Service was filed in secret to obtain – on a daily basis – telephone records from their clients. This includes call records in their systems from abroad.

But the public would have not known any of this had it not been for several leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. You have probably heard a lot about this man, but perhaps you did not realize he met with "Guardian" journalists in a Hong Kong hotel to share his information.

When I first heard Snowden described as a whistleblower, I immediately had flashes of Russell Crowe in strained conversations with Al Pacino. But apart from my recollection from "The Insider," I had yet to hear anything about one in real life.

In this real-world example of whistleblowers – flights to Russia and asylum requests – I could not help but feel like I was watching a movie plot roll out before me on the news. Unlike "The Insider," however, it is really happening.

As I researched more, I learned about a program called Prism, a computer system that the NSA uses in large-scale data collection of people's communication records. In this program, there are no individual warrants to pull data. It is rather easy to get our information.

Prism is utilized by tech giants such as Apple, Yahoo and Microsoft, and also allows each group to possess access to non-Americans' online information. However, all of this metadata, as it is referred to, does not contain content.

To obtain the content of phone calls, a request to individuals suspected of criminal intent must be processed.

What does NSA think about all of this? I was curious as well. On the NSA website, it states that "continuous and selective revelations of specific techniques and tools used by NSA to pursue legitimate foreign intelligence targets is detrimental..." They go on to list the United States and its allies.

While the agency's purpose is not in dispute, its practices raise questions. Should the NSA really have rights to emails?

Imagine if all policemen had a registered tag that viewed every item in your car. It would not matter if the driver was suspected of carrying illegal firearms or not. But in the event that a firearm did appear in a car, the police could lawfully obtain a warrant for search and seizure.

Much the same way, the NSA mass-collects information, whether individuals are suspected or not.

I would rather be treated as innocent until proven guilty, a radical notion that our founding fathers fought and died for (check the Constitution for more information).

I will not hound you about the rights to privacy that we have in this great nation of America, but sometimes it does seem like we need a little reminder.

Americans, especially us younger ones, need to watch closely how intimate we become with the government. While the internet and its descendants are a beautiful way to stay connected to those around the world, it is crucial to stay proactive in data privacy issues.

The technological generation that we are, this affects us the greatest. We should concern ourselves not only with the layers of technology we have grown up with, but also how private that area of our lives should be.

Stay alert, stay knowledgeable and stay fresh. The feds are watching.

Rebecca Butcher is a junior in journalism and electronic media. She can be reached at rbutcher@utk.edu.