The GCHQ is profiling every single Internet user, according to new Snowden files released by The Intercept. At this point, the story should no longer be that surveillance agencies are recording every single thing you do unencrypted, but that people are still surprised about it. We’re far beyond Orwellian and it’s time people realized.
Imagine that. The British spy agency has personal files of every single person who’s ever been online, tracking every visit to every site possible. Stasi would be green with envy. Erich Honecker would be proud. After all, Stasi only had files on a significant portion of the East German population.
Actually, yes, we could imagine exactly that. By now, we should know that all unencrypted traffic is being wiretapped, for no better reason than because it can be wiretapped. The surveillance agencies have demonstrated loudly and clearly that they are completely outside the reach of the law and fundamental human rights of privacy.
We knew already that the GCHQ wiretaps and stores absolutely everything in a rotating storage, analyzing it as much as they can while it’s still in store. Bottom line: if you’re not using encrypted communications, you should know by now that at least three government agencies are watching everything you do.
The difference is one of mindset: privacy advocates assume, based on experience, that surveillance agencies do anything that is technically possible with today’s technology. It would seem a lot of people still think those agencies respect some kind of law or constitution. They don’t.
It’s noteworthy here that Hoover’s FBI went similarly untouched for a long time, mostly because Hoover had embarrassing files on all powerholders who could do anything to shut Hoover down. Now, can you imagine what today’s surveillance agencies know about their opponents?
This is no fantasy. When the Swedish surveillance agency, the FRA, was being debated ahead of a bill giving it a carte blanche permission for bulk warrantless wiretapping, you would see the agency’s IP addresses in the visitor logs of every blog critical of it, every morning. It wasn’t even concealed. And obviously, that was only the overt part of keeping track of their political opponents.
This is the same GCHQ that had a program called Optic Nerve that wiretapped people’s video chats (the penny should start dropping, considering they’re wiretapping everything). Yes, including wiretapping nude chats between those who enjoy having those. Now, the GCHQ’s power from having that material isn’t having a nude image of somebody – it’s knowing who were chatting nude with each other. Say, hypothetically, that a married senator overseeing the NSA would be chatting lightly-dressed with a British person – to whom the senator is not married? That’s where the value lies. Yes, that would be extortionate. And yet, it has happened time and again and again and again. Is it time to start learning from history, yet?
I hear a lot of people dismiss the comparisons between today’s surveillance agencies and, say, the East German Stasi (the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, coincidentally translating to State Security Ministry or more contemporarily National Security Agency). People are right to dismiss these comparisons as unfair, but not for the reason those people think. The human mind is very poor at grasping differences of many orders of magnitude.
In an apples-to-apples comparison, the NSA alone is storing nine orders of magnitude more data on citizens than the East German Stasi ever did. That’s more invasive by a factor of one billion. Nine zeroes.
These surveillance agencies wiretap everything, record everything, cross-reference everything. This is not a joke and it’s time to act accordingly.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.