Over the past couple of days I have seen quite a few articles in which people have been complaining about Facebook invading people’s privacy, being creepily Big-Brotherish and encouraging online stalkers. The tide also seems to have turned against Google, with the ever-unpopular Street View cameramen admitting that they had “inadvertently” downloaded private data from household Wi-Fi networks, including sensitive information such as passwords and e-mails.
It’s no secret that law enforcement officials and security forces the world over can or will soon be able to hack into anyone’s Facebook, Skype or e-mail accounts and collect data such as private conversations, photographs or status updates to gather information about suspected criminals.
The trouble I have with this is: how do officials decide who is a potential criminal or terrorist? Do they use racial and religious profiling? For over twenty years, key-word technology has been developed as part of state security. Mention the word “bomb” or similar such terroristy word over the internet, the phone or in a text or e-mail and a little red flag is raised somewhere on a server.
Of course, most of the time it’s a false alarm. Nevertheless they must be looked into, which takes up time and resources. And the technology has to get more and more sophisticated as the years go by, because more and more people are getting connected and internet traffic is growing exponentially year-on-year.
The anarchist in me would suggest that everyone should put the word “bomb” in every single e-mail you send out and say it on every single phone call you make, and if millions of us do it, it might make their servers explode and their operations director commit suicide.
However, the real threat to our privacy is not just Facebook, but the whole kit and caboodle. Facebook, Twitter and Google and the millions of app developers and advertisers watching your consumer habits. Turning your computer on or using your mobile phone means that you are leaving a trail of your behaviour on servers all over the world. Your IP address. Your friends. Your shopping habits. Your Google searches. Your location. You think that just because your “add your location” option on Facebook is disabled that no-one will know where you are?
Everyone’s cellphone is a tracking device. GSM technology allows network providers to track the location of a mobile phone using cell tower triangulation methods. Even if you have a Nokia 3310.
Most passports are now so-called biometric or electronic passports. These passports contain RFID chips which can be read from up to 30 feet away, enabling your personal information to be read and updated on a central database without your knowledge whenever you are travelling with your personal documents. And those are just the RFID chips we know about. There may very well be others that we are not aware of, hidden away in things we would never suspect.
Calls can be tapped and Facebook/Twitter communication can be logged. Even Voice-Over-Internet Protocol (VOIP) calls such as Skype can be monitored, recorded and traced.
I would say that Twitter is becoming a larger threat to privacy than Facebook. With the new revamped version of Twitter, conversations between groups of people can be seen and analysed, and multimedia platforms are available on separately-developed but interlinked applications. The more worrying aspect of Twitter is that most people’s Twitter accounts are public, meaning anyone can see them, whereas the vast majority of Facebook accounts are protected by privacy settings.
Some people can Tweet up to 100 times in one day, leaving nothing about themselves to the imagination but the regularity of their bowels. That means that just about anyone can get a good feel of who you are, what you do and what your political stance is just by reading your Twitter feed.
Naturally, there will be a mindless sheep here somewhere saying, “but if you haaaaaven’t done aaaanything wrong, then you don’t have aaaaaanything to fear.”
Well, you smug little anal-retentive government-employed drone, you are more plastic than flesh and bone. Every normal person has something to hide, whether it is a big something or a small something. Everyone has committed some kind of a sin that they wouldn’t want the entire world knowing about. Everyone is guilty of something and hopes that they are clever enough to fool the world into thinking that they are moral, law-abiding citizens. There is no such thing.
The wonderful thing about life is that mistakes and bad judgement can be left in the past and there is always the opportunity to turn over a new leaf. But that was before governments got all 2.0. Now, nothing will be forgotten.
In the United Kingdom, the deceptively-named “Interception Modernisation Programme” (IMP) will require all mobile phone and internet service providers to collect and store the "traffic details" of all internet and mobile phone use in the country. In the face of several concerns about this legislation, there have been a sudden slew of terrorism scares, from a crazy old lady who stabbed her MP to printer ink cartridge bombs defused “seconds from detonation” at UK airports. Convenient, eh? I get the feeling that the laws will be pushed through in the wake of the Islamophobic hysteria, as it always is, and we are once again stuck with a law that has stripped us of our privacy and placed us inextricably in the Orwellian sphere.
Statistics released by the British government suggest that under the Regulatory Powers Act of 2000 (RIPA) – meant to combat terrorism - one in every 78 people is placed under state-sanctioned surveillance each year, with well over half a million official requests to access private information by councils, police and other officials in 2008, for infringements of the law such as benefit fraud, illegal fly-tipping and bringing a dog into the country illegally.
And the worst part? People who were found to have done nothing wrong, not even to have breached a council by-law, are not entitled to be informed that they were the subject of a surveillance operation.
Between CCTV, credit and debit cards, cookies on our computer, wiretaps on the phones and RFID chips in our documents, the net is closing in on Joe Soap, not Osama bin Laden. And governments all over the world are using terrorism as an excuse to ensure that no deed, good or bad, goes unpunished. And of course there is reality television to keep us all glued to the box while our civil rights dissolve like ice in the Sahara desert.
The next time Facebook asks you “what’s on your mind?” I’d suggest you think twice before you tell it the truth.