Questioning Universal Surveillance
by Reginald Welkin
Imagine someone watching your every move. Like someone following you on your day to day business, looking over your shoulder as you send text messages, leaning in to hear your phone calls, and even following you into the bathroom stall, you are being observed. As you get up, they may watch you get dressed. As you make coffee, they could know about. They have access to your private emails and text messages. They can know when your children are home alone. They can know when you leave for work. Anything you wouldn’t publicly broadcast to the world, whether it is private, embarrassing, worthy of blackmail, or even illegal, they may know about it, have evidence and make use of it.
We live in a world where we are under almost constant surveillance. Much of what we do is recorded and cataloged. Satellites, security cameras, credit histories, social media, public records, internet activity, phone calls, text messages, emails, financial transactions, and a host of other data and metadata are collected by both public and private entities in the effort to determine what type of people we are for purposes of sales, ID theft, logistics, and intelligence gathering.
It used to be that the FBI, Secret Service, and State and Local Law Enforcement were the only ones really watching us. Now, large companies like Google, know more about us than any local police department does. Back in 2000, people were worried about Carnivore, one of the FBI’s earlier programs for mass surveillance. After September 11, 2001, the crisis was used to implement plans made long earlier to really expand domestic surveillance. Carnivore which was renamed, after people heard about it and to obscure its true nature, was abandoned and more sophisticated software began to be used. The Patriot Act, the FISA Amendment Act, and several other acts began to push more domestic surveillance. The NSA has programs like Eschelon and just finished a huge data center in Utah, specifically built to take a peek into your private life.
Private corporations and our government are working hand in hand to know more and more about us. The information they can’t directly gather, they can see from Meta Data. An example would be gathering data from a home’s Smart Meter, to see what they were doing in their house, based on power usage. They can tell when you are home, if you are washing clothes, turning on lights, printing something, or watching TV, all from data collected from power usage. Even when power usage isn’t collected from individual houses, but by groups of houses, they can compare various other data, like emailed work schedules, credit card uses, and other things to see who is home and who is elsewhere then extrapolate this data and isolate various house’s machines from that data.
It is a strange new world. Those that want to, can monitor your phone calls as well as use your phone as a bug, even when it is “turned off”. Web cams and smart phone cameras can be watching you without your even knowing it. There really is no guarantee of privacy without going dark.
So why should one really care about privacy? The government doesn’t care about you as long as you are not a criminal and large companies only want to sell to you, if they used your data for other purposes, they would face criminal charges and lawsuits. Look back at your life, and think about someone, not just anyone, but a stranger, watching you at all times. Would you feel comfortable about that? Why not? Do you have something to hide?
The government and private corporations are not some inhuman entity that acts as expected and only has their corporate goals in mind. All sorts of people are employed by these entities. It would be like if your ex worked for the FBI, and decided to wiretap your house. Maybe an active pedophile works for your electric company and knows when your children are left unattended. Maybe you do things in your private life that are embarrassing. Say you are just about to run for office and you are approached by someone that wants you to do something for them. They have private messages and maybe video of things you don’t want others to know about. But this is extreme. Let’s say everyone in government and at places like Google only look at your data when absolutely necessary and don’t watch you from the camera on your phone, your wifi security cameras, or your laptop’s webcam. Let’s say they only look at your private text messages when they are flagged for suspicious content and are between you and someone in a country at war with us. Okay, now you should rest easy, not be concerned, and feel that your private life is intact. Or is it?
Maybe you are aware that data breaches occur all the time. Even some of the most secret military files end up being stolen. Secure servers are not really that secure. When breaches occur, it isn’t just one or two passwords that are at risk, but millions. Whatever data the government and large corporations are storing, is at risk of being stolen. Oddly enough, while government may be concerned about their own privacy, they apparently weren’t or aren’t as worried about yours. They only decided to start using HTTPS (A secure, encrypted data internet transfer protocol.) more universally in 2015.
As for private companies, they not only have a profit motive, but this leads them to do anything to stay in business. As with all businesses that stay in business during political change, companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube also work with governments to control information as well as spy on you. Large companies have had many more reported data breaches than government servers. Some supposedly had the servers that were so secure, there was no way anyone could access the information on them, even if they had taken drives from them. This was the supposed security of The Cloud, a storage system that breaks data down in a RAID like fashion, so that not only is it spread over various encrypted servers, but replicated to prevent data loss. The Cloud was stored on huge server farms owned by companies like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. Not so surprisingly, this was compromised and some very private things were published for all the world to see.
Then again, maybe you don’t mind voyeurs watching you all the time, don’t have anything worth stealing, and are doing nothing illegal behind closed doors. You have nothing to hide. What then? Why not share all with the world? Throughout history, privacy has been the keystone of liberty. All pushes for freedom relied heavily on secrecy. They didn’t tell their oppressors what they were planning and every action they took, for to do so would have meant their failure. When your life is constantly monitored, you do not have the opportunity to have true freedom.
If we should leave our lives open to government surveillance, why is it that we aren’t allowed full access to our government’s official actions and even their own personal lives? They value privacy for themselves, if not, they would build glass houses, because they have nothing to hide.
Writes about politics from a Conservative Libertarian viewpoint. While pushing for a government that is Fiscally Conservative and Socially Liberal, he personally appreciates the Socially Conservative lifestyle.
Copyright R. A. Welkin