Hollywood told us in 1998, followed by Edward Snowden in 2013, and now WikiLeaks and the CIA. What are the reasons for mass surveillance, and why it’s not about security.
“The NSA can read the time off your watch.” Gene Hackman’s famous quote from the 1998 conspiracy thriller Enemy of the State referred to the NSA’s ability of high-resolution satellite surveillance. 15 years later, Edward Snowden showed us that it wasn’t a conspiracy at all. We all learned that today’s surveillance capabilities are beyond imagination. By the way, here’s what the NSA thought about the movie.
It started with the Patriot Act under Bush, and it’s not likely to end under Trump. Although, in June 2015, President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, which ended bulk collection of domestic phone data by the government (excluding emails and international phone calls). That’s a start, but not enough.
In fact, with last weeks decision, the Senate just screwed over your privacy once again. In a 50-48 vote on Thursday, the Senate voted to repeal a Federal Communications Commission rule that forced broadband internet service provider (ISP’s) to get customers permission to share their information. This means that your provider can now sell your data — browsing history, social media activities etc. — to advertisers. You might think that browsing incognito would solve that problem. It does not. Incognito mode just prevents your browser from saving your history locally, your ISP can still see the sites you visit.
The following list, according to lifehacker, gives you an idea what your provider does with your data:
- Comcast – They’re believed to retain IP addresses that have used BitTorrent for 180 days, but they haven’t officially commented on the matter.
- Verizon – Information about IP address assignments is retained for 18 months.
- Qwest/Century – IP address logs are kept for approximately one year.
- Cox – Believed to keep logs for up to six months.
- Charter – Believed to keep logs for up to one year.
So what can you do? For starters, check out my article How to protect your online life to learn more about privacy.
At the moment it’s “just” for advertisers. But what if someday your ISP decides to sell your data to insurance companies? And if they see, for example, that you searched the web for: free climbing spots, skydiving costs or paragliding locations, they could rate you as a “high-risk” client, just to make your insurance policy more expensive. Mark my words, this is just the beginning.
“But I have nothing to hide”
Let’s get this out of the way once and for all. If somebody tells you: “I have nothing to hide.” You grab a piece of paper and you answer: “Oh yeah? Then write down all of your passwords — bank account, email, social media etc. — and give it to me.” Well, nobody would do that. So it’s not true, you have something to hide, and more importantly, something to protect.
Police already abuse the immense power they have, but if everyone’s every action were being monitored, and everyone technically violates some obscure law at some time, then punishment becomes purely selective. Those in power will essentially have what they need to punish anyone they’d like, whenever they choose, as if there were no rules at all.
— Wired Magazine June 13th, 2013.
It’s all about security!?
Paris, San Bernardino, Nizza, Berlin and London are examples why mass surveillance doesn’t work. Why? Because if you collect everything, you can’t find anything. It’s all about control. Like when FBI planes flew over protests, or that one time when the NSA targeted charities! The government is under the impression that mass surveillance can create some kind of badass Minority Report pre-crime system to prevent future attacks from happening. Well, the ACLU report: Surveillance under the Patriot Act says it all.
Cameras: Not a million surveillance cameras can prevent someone from stealing a Truck and driving into a crowded area 2 minutes later. Now, some people would argue that cameras can’t prevent it, but they can help identify the person afterwards — if he is still alive. Sure. But afterwards usually means people already died.
Metadata: Security officials always claimed: “It’s just metadata.” Meaning; when you make a phone call, authorities can see your location, who you talk to and the duration of the call, not the actual content — same with emails. But, Edward Snowden once said: “If you have enough metadata, you don’t need the actual content.” And calling it metadata doesn’t make the process less intrusive!
Facial recognition: The FBI has a database that contains photos of nearly half of US adults, without consent! The FBI made arrangements with 18 different states to gain access to their databases of driver’s license photos. Now the fun part: The algorithms used to identify matches are inaccurate about 15% of the time, and are more likely to misidentify black people than white people, according to last week’s House oversight committee hearing.
To be clear, this “just in case” mentality is as close to a police state as it gets. Just remember one thing: “The setup for a police state is already in place, it just needs that one guy to flip the switch.” Someone like the jackass that’s currently in the White House, for example. So if you really wanna help, you can support the following organizations:
Electronic Frontier Foundation: www.supporters.eff.org/donate
American Civil Liberties Union: www.aclu.org/