When synthpop sensation Rockwell released the hit single “Somebody’s Watching Me” in 1984, it’s unlikely that the paranoia he was singing about concerned government surveillance. Nevertheless, the 30-year old pop anthem remains relevant today because it speaks to the feeling that so many of us have.
Indeed, it no longer seems cuckoo to say that all eyes are upon us…because they are! You can’t walk down a city street without being monitored. There are an estimated 30 million surveillance cameras in the US alone and that number will only continue to grow.
And never mind walking down the street, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to find yourself scrutinized. Not only do internet service providers (ISPs) collect all of your personal information, but they are free to sell it off to third party entities for marketing and other purposes.
More alarmingly, our world governments have been snooping on their citizens for decades. In 1941, the UKUSA Agreement was forged. This multilateral covenant for cooperation in signals intelligence between Australia, Canada, New Zealand , the United Kingdom and the United States, otherwise referred to as the “Five Eyes,” revolves around the covert STONEGHOST network, a system that is said to hold some of the Western world’s most sensitive secrets.
In the ensuing years, this alliance has expanded to include second and third party partners. Today, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden have formed SSEUR or the “Fourteen Eyes,” joining the “Five Eyes” in their exchange of delicate data.
The House Intelligence Committee has released a memo that alleges that the FBI and Justice Department are guilty of gross surveillance abuses against their own government and the Electronic Frontier Foundation shows that the malfeasance doesn’t stop there.
Working in tandem with major telecommunication carriers, the National Security Agency has engaged in massive, illegal dragnet surveillance since as far back as 2001. In that time, they have spied on the domestic communications and communication records of millions of tax-paying, law-abiding American citizens.
Under the Obama administration, the NSA violated the Constitution and court-ordered guidelines pursuant to federal law, willfully exploiting loopholes to unmask Americans’ identities when sharing this information with other agencies.
What’s more, then-President Obama even monitored Trump campaign officials prior to Trump’s appointment as our Commander-in-Chief. It would seem that even the Leader of the Free World isn’t exempt from the surveillance state.
There are no less than 6 government programs that watching us 24/7. The Justice Department is regularly obtaining and using evidence from social networking sites. That means that no person with a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account is safe.
The department can collect and use any of your personal communications against you if they deem it relevant to establishing “motives and personal relationships.” If this sounds a lot like what the law calls circumstantial evidence it’s because that’s exactly what it is.
For instance, if someone you know is murdered and your social media profile contains pictures of you brandishing a knife at a horror convention, the Justice Department could, in theory, use those photographs to support the notion that you were involved in the commission of such a crime.
The Internal Revenue Service also utilizes social media sites, including Facebook, Google and YouTube, to investigate taxpayers. Since 2009, this practice has been part of their agent training program.
The next word you type into Google may get you flagged by the Department of Homeland Security. The department is using an aggressive monitoring program that tracks a whopping 380 keywords.
It’s a scary time to be an American, especially with global cyberattacks posing a very real daily threat. After all, if they’re not simply snooping then they’re holding our personal data hostage. Using sophisticated means, hackers from all across the globe are targeting businesses and private citizens with ransomware.
Such attacks, like the one that was likely perpetrated by North Korea, continue to plague our nation and threat trends for the year ahead indicate that ransomware, firmware and other malicious software will dog us if we don’t do something to stop it.
It’s times like these when we would be smart to take a cue from our Commander-in-Chief and protect ourselves against privacy infringement, censorship and more. In November of last year, Trump paved the way during his visit to China.
By using a virtual private network (VPN), the president was able to circumvent the “Great Firewall” and access Twitter which is banned in Beijing, where the president was staying, and everywhere else across the country.
VPNs are WANs (Wide Area Networks) that use dedicated connections and advanced encryption protocols to generate P2P connections. They “spoof” your IP address by replacing it with one of their own VPN providers.
Most VPNs have multiple servers in most every major country, meaning that you can protect your privacy even if you are traveling. In countries with draconian privacy laws, such as the US and Australia (both part of Fourteen Eyes), it’s imperative to use a VPN when browsing the web. Some of the best services on the market feature intrusion detection and prevention, DNK leakage protection, signature protocols, IPSec (an extra layer of security), split tunneling and unique authentication.
A word of warning, however, for my more frugal readers. Yes, there are free VPNs available online, but as with your ISP, these free services are only offered for free because, unlike subscription-based solutions, they keep logs of all your sessions and can sell your data to third parties.
Some of the less reputable VPNs, such as HideMyAss, have been served with subpoenas and shared their customers’ log sections with law enforcement officials. For this reason, it’s important to use a VPN that stands by its “no logs” policy.
As Justice William R. Day famously said of our Fourth Amendment, “The efforts of the courts and their officials to bring the guilty to punishment, praiseworthy as they are, are not to be aided by the sacrifice of those great principles established by years of endeavor and suffering which have resulted in their embodiment in the fundamental law of the land.”