Right now, you probably aren’t under surveillance, but numerous popular software services – including Skype, Gmail, Hotmail and iTunes – are all open to abuse by spying methods originating in the private sector. Last week Wikileaks unveiled its latest tranche of leaked goodies, revealing just a small part of what it believes is a massive and growing industry – privacy-invading technology. They claim that private firms are peddling software and hardware to government organizations to enable them to monitor and hack citizens, contravening civil rights and privacy laws in the process.
On one video detailed on Wikileaks, the Gamma Group proudly tells how its range of ‘infection functionality’ can remotely access private individuals’ hard drives, insert spyware into downloads, and coax users into downloading spoof updates, all in order to gain access to their personal data. Wikileaks suggests that if Gamma can do this, so can any government. Wikileaks explains how the software claims to be able to inject downloads in progress with virus and malware – including the option to intercept Skype phone calls or to install ISP-level surveillance.
For instance, the technology offered by one vendor can target a specific machine or smartphone, or can be installed at an Internet service provider to enable monitoring of all network activity for that device. It’s not just individuals who are concerned – other agencies with a need to protect the integrity of their data include industrial companies, healthcare services, and even other governmental agencies. And this is just the palette of tools available from one company – Gamma, which Wikileaks asserts is a general representation of the privacy-infringing sector as a whole.
Although governments are known to monitor the cyber-activity of those individuals it considers to be a danger to the state, this is some of the first evidence of companies openly touting such services. And governments have a mighty arsenal of tools at their disposal, from the US National Security Agency’s Echelon satellite intercepting capability to the British government’s cracking of the Blackberry Playbook’s encryption software following riots in August.
Nowadays governments must tread a fine line between protecting the rights of the individual and protecting the public as a whole, and there’s the rub – who draws the line and where it has to be drawn is necessarily decided behind closed doors by unaccountable individuals who for obvious reasons can’t reveal their actions to the people they deem it necessary to survey. The moral of the story? Some people say, ‘If you can’t be good, be careful’. That’s no longer an option. The new internet folk wisdom warns instead, ‘If you can’t be good, don’t go online’. On the other hand, that’s assuming only those people who deserve to have their private activities monitored and circulated are actually being treated in this way, and not everyone would agree with that…
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