Why Today’s Wiretapping Is Entirely Unlike Yesterday’s

Posted on Jan 22, 2014 by Rick Falkvinge

Wiretapping has expanded grotesquely without lawmakers being aware of it, just by law enforcement demanding the apparent ability to wiretap online conversations. What nobody talks about is that if you’re wiretapping conversations online, you’re wiretapping an enormous amount of other activity, too – activities that were never before wiretappable.

You’ll frequently hear law enforcement complain that they’ve lost the ability to wiretap in the digital world, and need the “equivalent” wiretapping ability that they had on the old analog telephone network.

This is an outrageously deceptive demand, not to mention an outright lie. And yet, politicians are buying it, lock, stock, and barrel.

When your phonecall was wiretapped in the analog world, conversations with other people could be recorded and used against you. That was the start and end of it.

When your digital traffic is being wiretapped, more or less every thought you make is being wiretapped and recorded. This is so scary it isn’t even funny. This is nowhere near the ability to just listen in to conversations – it goes orders of magnitude beyond that level of invasion.

Never before has it been possible to wiretap what newspapers you read, what articles in those newspapers, for how long, and in what order.

Never before has it been possible to wiretap what information you look up in a library, in what order, and what you think about looking up inbetween.

Never before has it been possible to wiretap you looking at your friends’ photos.

Never before has it been possible to wiretap practically every footstep you take, as you take it, around the city, mapping your movements in real time – and make a note of the people you’re meeting with, too – recording all of it to be used against you at any time in the future, possibly decades from today.

And this grotesque expansion of surveillance happened entirely without debate, as law enforcement managed to frame it as “a technical adaptation to modern means of communication”.

This shows the danger of offline-born legislators, who frankly have no clue about how the world works today in a deep enough level of detail to understand the ramifications of the laws they make.

The list continues. In many countries, personal letters and diaries have a special status when law enforcement is conducting search warrants – to seize them, you need to have a very serious crime at hand. But computers and smartphones are seized and forfeit without hesitation today. They’re regarded as worktools, no more private than a garage wrench, by completely obsolete legislation – when the protection computers and phones should have is at least the same as a diary or collection of personal letters, and probably much higher than that, seeing how we document much more of our private lives today.

This is obviously not the equivalent of wiretapping analog phonecalls. This is the equivalent of having somebody look over people’s shoulder, in their private home and wherever they go about, and record everything they do in case it can be used against them decades from now.

The future grows darker, and it’s up to us who understand technology to make a difference.

In the meantime, your privacy remains your own responsibility.

VPN Service