Our total immersion with technology is well under way, and there is little doubt we are about to become even more reliant on the devices that connect us to the Internet. Research suggests that the average American adult will spend around 86 hours a month using their smartphone, not to mention the use of PCs and countless other gadgets that fall under the umbrella of the Internet of Things. Some experts are wondering when we will start spending most of our free time in virtual worlds, rather than navigating the physical world? Others question how long it will be before we are confessing our most private thoughts and feelings to chatbots, or unleashing our primal desires on sexbots endowed with artificial intelligence? We should all know then, that what we do online is watched-over, collected, exploited, and sold. Big Brother is definitely watching you. Today we’ll find out how, in this episode of the Infographics Show, 10 Surprising Ways the Government is Spying on You.
Number 10: PRISM
First of all, we know that our data is collected so that we can be targeted by companies that want to sell us things. We also know that data is analyzed to better understand us, or even to help us become healthier. But why is the government spying on us? The harbingers of techno-doom tell us government surveillance mirrors George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. His Big Brother creation was omnipresent, lurking in the shadows, a frightening entity verily not employed to serve the public. Spying governments say they are just protecting us, while their detractors would say they’re controlling the populace. PRISM is one of the United States government spying, or in less ominous terms, “monitoring” mechanisms, which was famously exposed by Edward Snowden. PRISM was supposed to collect data concerning terror threats that leave a footprint on American servers. Unfortunately, reports suggest PRISM did not only look for terrorists, but watched over the ordinary Joe-public. PRISM doesn’t have direct access to the huge servers such as those of Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, but the threat lies in what it can demand.
Number 9: Intercepts
In the words of Edward Snowden, “If they want to get you, over time they will.” Using something called Intercepts, Snowden famously said the NSA can easily get your emails, passwords, phone records, and credit cards. Intercepts are basically spying methods, collection systems that run through telecommunications networks. It has been revealed that such systems intercept around 1.7 billion communications a day, via phone, email, online chats, and texts.
Number 8: Talking on the phone
One of Snowden’s revelations was that most American telephone companies had been handing over people’s phone records to the government. According to NBC News, the U.S. monitors every single phone call that is made in America. But this isn’t only happening in the US. Recent news reports tell us just lately the Kenyan government has demanded that communications companies hand over all their data. The UK, where the fictional Big brother was created, has often been called one of the worst surveillance states in the world. In 2015, it was reported that the UK’s version of the NSA, the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, had hacked millions of phones by stealing encryption keys built into SIM cards.
Number 7: Internet activity
Everything you’ve ever done online can be collected by the NSA’s widest reaching spying technique called XKeyscore. It’s basically a gigantic search engine run on over 700 servers used by the NSA in the U.S., and in many other countries such as Australia, Great Britain, Denmark, Mexico, Spain, Canada, Japan, Sweden and New Zealand. In 2012, it was revealed Xkeyscore processed and stored around 41 billion communications in a month. According to Snowden, if he was sitting at his desk, he could easily hack anyone, from an accountant, to a federal judge, or even the president of the united states.
Number 6: By literally watching you through your laptop or phone camera
Did you know that former FBI director James Comey covers his laptop camera with tape? He also once said that in government offices, the machines come with a little flap that covers the lens of the camera that sits on a monitor. You think he’s crazy? Well, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg covers his webcam with tape too, as well as his audio jack. Zuckerberg fears his laptop camera being hacked, and for good reason. The Intercept reported that the NSA can use a plug-in called GUMFISH to take over a webcam, while the Wall Street Journal reported in 2013 that the FBI can hack microphones and cameras on devices.
5: Watching you watch TV
Your TV could be monitoring what you watch and even listening to you. That is according to WikiLeaks documents that show us the CIA and British authorities had been hacking smart TVs. The documents explained that programs such as one called Weeping Angel could make your TV record everything that was happening around it, the audio at least, while collecting information on what you watch. Having a telly you can talk to might not be so smart after all.
Number 4: Other connected devices
Did you know a smart sex toy maker was sued recently because it was tracking users’ sexual activity without them knowing about it? This is perhaps not an area the government is wont to exploit, but other connected devices are apparently fair game. The U.S. government has made demands that Amazon relinquish data recorded on one of its Amazon Echoes. Amazon declined, citing the first amendment and privacy rights. Nonetheless, having the smart assistant Alexa in your home might be running the risk of opening your door to a government spy.
Number 3: Closed Circuit Television
There used to be a myth that in a big city you’re never more than 6 feet away from a rat. That might not exactly be true, but it’s probably true that you’re never more than 6 feet away from the view of a CCTV camera. The UK is said to be the most heavily surveilled country on Earth regarding CCTV. The country has an estimated 5.9 million cameras, one for every 11 people. London alone has 420,000 cameras, while Beijing has a whopping 400,000 surveillance cameras. American cities follow on the list of most watched over cities, with Chicago, Houston and New York all having what some might say is an inordinate amount of CCTV cameras.
Number 2: Texting
Another NSA program, Dishfire, collects information from your text messages. Along with the UK’s GCHQ, billions of messages have been intercepted on a weekly basis, while location, contacts and credit card details have also been intercepted. The NSA called the program a goldmine, and didn’t seem to mind that information received was not from any specific, dangerous target.
Number 1: By being smarter than you
The recent global ransomware hack called WannaCry was apparently partly created with stolen NSA hacking tools. Government spying is hardly a transparent activity. Reports have suggested that the NSA coerces manufacturers to build exploits into their products so that they can be hacked. You think you have an impregnable firewall and the latest security measures, but what if you’re using a product that was purposefully built with hidden flaws? It’s a dirty game, this surveillance business. The NSA has been accused of hacking foreign banks, oil companies in Brazil, the Mexican government, businesses and government leaders worldwide. They may even be watching you right now. To quote Snowden again, “Even if you are not doing anything wrong, you are being watched and recorded.”
So, what are some of the ways in which you safeguard your privacy? Let us know in the comments!