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Your Democratically Elected Government.
Democratically elected governments spy on citizens
by Aaron Saenz
Controlling information and spying on citizens were hallmarks of totalitarian regimes in the 20th century. Today, even moderate democracies are getting in on the action. In the last decade, as communication has shifted from traditional landlines, phone calls, and postal service to cell phones and email, governments around the world have struggled to maintain their ability to hunt down criminals and dissidents. As the world went wireless, intelligence gathering agencies have adapted and upgraded wiretapping skills, and major telecommunications companies have helped them do it. Nokia, Sprint, Ericsson, Facebook, Google – think of a business that helps people talk and exchange information and you’ll think of a company that has helped law enforcement agencies look through private data in search of the bad guys. Not such a big deal, right? I mean, we all want to hunt down the bad guys. Yet it’s becoming clear that not only is the loss of our privacy considered acceptable collateral damage, but giving backdoor access to governments make a business’ data more vulnerable to the bad guys as well.
In many areas of the globe, such as the US, UK and EU, to name a few, governments may monitor a citizen’s communications when they are suspected of a crime. There are legal/judicial hurdles that must be cleared for such observations to be installed but once they are cleared governments are legally allowed to spy. Such wiretapping has been going on since before the phone was invented. Now, however, much of our communication doesn’t pass through telephone wires but through the servers of corporate giants like Google. This proved to be both a hindrance and a large opportunity to information gathering and law enforcement agencies. They didn’t have direct access to those lines of communication, but the new medium allowed for automated detection and recording. By requiring companies like Facebook, Google, Sprint, etc to grant them automated backdoor access to their technologies, government agencies all around the world suddenly had the means to browse through billions of communications. Email subject lines, mobile phone GPS locations, call histories – all this digital information could be scanned, sorted, and stored for future use. And boy is it used. Sprint-Nextel provided US agencies with 8 million requests for cell phone GPS location information in 2008-2009 alone – and that’s just one mobile company. In an interview with Russia Today, Julian Assange, head of WikiLeaks recently stated that other tech companies, such as Facebook, are so accessible to US intelligence agencies that they act as de facto information gathering sources – see the video below for more:
- Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media
- WikiLeaks’ Assange Calls Facebook ‘Most Appalling Spying Machine Ever’
A quick reality check, neither WikiLeaks nor Russia Today are particularly fond of US government activity, and it’s not surprising that both would critique the US government for invading online privacy. Yet it goes beyond one nation.