Why They Would Spy on Me If Am Nobody?


Human Wrongs Watch

By Fernando Velázquez*

The death of secrets in the digital world

Privacy is in danger of no longer being considered an intrinsic right
Privacy is in danger of no longer being considered an intrinsic right | Image from Wall Street International.

27 November 2020 (Wall Street International)*  — The best way to watch a population is for them not to know when they are watched and when not. As surveillance becomes a common factor of our daily lives, privacy is in danger of no longer being considered an intrinsic right.

People over the world are prone to make repeatedly three crucial mistakes:

1. Underestimating the quantity of information, they produce everyday;
2. Depreciating the value of that information;
3. Think that their only problem is a super powerful (and apparently distant) agency that can control or spy on them.

And while it is true that NSA or other agencies have enough resources and power to maintain strong surveillance practices, simply they don’t need to use their best arsenal against us: we are always completely naked to the world, since everybody now possesses a smart device that every minute is saying “hey hello, I’m here, doing this, with this person at this hour”.

Smart devices represent a completely unprecedented surveillance practice; if people think stronger/more effective surveillance methods existed already, (for example during Cold War), it is nothing compared to the massive effect these devices can achieve.

Data-can-provide-attackers-with-enough-information-to-conduct-identity-theft

Data can provide attackers with enough information to conduct identity theft | Image from Wall Street International.

Everything from our web browsing to mobile devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) products installed in our homes have the potential to erode our privacy and personal security, and you cannot depend on vendors or ever-changing surveillance rules to keep them intact.

In this way, government surveillance has been brought increasingly under public scrutiny, with proponents arguing that it increases security, and opponents decrying its invasion of privacy.

Since the Snowden leaks, critics have loudly accused governments of employing surveillance technologies that sweep up massive amounts of information, intruding on the privacy of millions, but with little to no evidence of success.

“I have nothing to hide” was once the standard response to surveillance programs utilizing cameras, border checks, and casual questioning by law enforcement.

Smart-devices-represent-a-completely-unprecedented-surveillance-practice

Smart devices represent a completely unprecedented surveillance practice | Image from Wall Street International.

Having “nothing to hide” doesn’t cut it anymore and similar statements (derived from the mistakes outlined before) are total nonsense as we will enumerate:

1. I am not doing anything wrong, why I need to be worried?

Would you care if somebody installed voice recorders and cameras in your home, recorded every conversation you have, or followed you wherever you go? Those actions are the physical-world equivalent of the online mass surveillance that is in effect right now.

The question should be I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should they be worried? If our privacy is taken away without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, then the assumption is that everyone is potentially guilty until proven innocent.

2. Corporations/agencies already know everything about me, so what’s the difference?

The big difference relies on the decision (and ignorance unfortunately at the same time), you are providing this information completely voluntarily. You decide which info you upload to a social network, email account, or with water, electricity and telecom companies. So, you are aware you are doing it and any time you can CANCEL your account.

3. My traffic over the Internet is just metadata, not legible, I use HTTPS, so who cares?

Data is a vague concept and can encompass such a wide range of information that it is worth briefly breaking down different collections before examining how each area is relevant to your privacy and security.

All this data, whether lost in different data breaches or stolen through phishing campaigns, can provide attackers with enough information to conduct identity theft, take out loans using your name, and potentially compromise online accounts that rely on security questions being answered correctly. In the wrong hands, this information can also prove to be a gold mine for advertisers lacking a moral backbone.

Also, Internet activity is monitored by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and can be hijacked. While there is little consumers can do about attacks at the ISP level, the web pages you visit can also be tracked by cookies, which are small bits of text that are downloaded and stored by your browser. Browser plugins may also track your activity across multiple websites.

Government-surveillance-has-been-brought-increasingly-under-public-scrutiny-with-proponents

Government surveillance has been brought increasingly under public scrutiny, with proponents arguing that it increases security, and opponents decrying its invasion of privacy | Image from Wall Street International.

We are not algorithms, we are people

In the Netherlands, they made a census long ago which included religions, with the best and pure statistical “intentions” of quantifying. They wanted to know how many Protestants, Catholics, and Jews they had in order to know how much money they had to distribute in the community, in each church or synagogue across the country.

What happened next? Well, when the nazis came they had their homework done. Only 10% of the dutch jews survived WWII. If that database had not existed, the story would have been very different. As I usually hear (and say), the pathway to hell is always built with the best and pure intentions.

The threats to our privacy and security are ever-evolving and within a few short years, things can change for much worse. It is a constant game of push-and-pull when the conversation turns to encryption; cyber attackers are evolving and inventing new ways to exploit us daily, and some countries would rather suppress the idea of individual privacy, rather than protect it.

Products-installed-in-our-homes-have-the-potential-to-erode-our-privacy-and-personal-security

Products installed in our homes have the potential to erode our privacy and personal security | Image from Wall Street International.

What I mean with the last example, is that our problem is not the NSA, neither corrupt governments or even ambitious companies that are selling our data everywhere and actually it has nothing to do with their real intentions (good or bad ones doesn‘t matter), the main problem is that the very existence of that information (all our information, our records, registries, everything) makes us vulnerable in ways, we are not able to anticipate right now.

Conclusion

“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say. When you say, ‘I have nothing to hide,’ you’re saying, ‘I don’t care about this right”.

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