Most of us are familiar with the notion of “Big Brother” watching over us. The feeling of attempts to control our movements, actions, and even our thoughts by “The State”. To many, these assertions are the ravings of conspiracy theorists bordering on lunacy. In truth, however, the cold fact is we as a collective, do have almost every significant action on record, in one form or another.
The use of that information is really the point for debate, as well as how legitimate some of the data gathering is. Many people would take the idea of mass surveillance from shadow governments more seriously following the chilling revelations from whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Whether it is for industrial espionage, political leverage, or market control, “they” have an intense interest in the movements, actions, and even the thought process of each and every one of us.
Before we move on, check out the trailer for the film “Enemy Of The State”, which is undoubtedly fiction based on a very grim reality. And given that this film is over two decades old, where such technology is today is both mind-bending and beyond concerning.
The Revelations of Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden became a household name in June 2013 when he released thousands of highly classified files concerning activity of the NSA to several journalists. These documents would form the basis of several stories that appeared in The Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post. From there, the revelations snowballed, and Snowden became one of “America’s Most Wanted” almost overnight.
He faced charges from the US Department of Justice in relation to the Espionage Act of 1917, including theft of US government property. Snowden had made the revelations from Hong Kong, and after receiving permission for asylum in Ecuador, he would board a plane which would see him change at Moscow before setting off for his apparent sanctuary.
However, before he could leave Russia, the United States would cancel his passport. Snowden was literally stranded at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport where he would remain for almost a month. Russia would ultimately grant Snowden asylum rights, initially for a year but with annual extensions. According to Russian President, Vladimir Putin, his intelligence services were already in discussions with the whistleblower about asylum before he left Hong Kong.
Among the many shocking revelations from Snowden’s files was the illegal accumulation of data of not only American citizens but other populations around the world. Everything from their phone-calls to their e-mails and even search history is on record.
The NSA is the drive behind this data accumulation but the UK’s GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) have active involvement. As well as spying on citizens, the NSA and GCHQ monitored various world government’s communications, even those who were on friendly terms.
Further Examples From The Dark World Of The Intelligence Services?
A lot of what Edward Snowden has stated in interviews and written pieces, if we are to believe the authenticity of the claims, matches what many conspiracy researchers have claimed for some time. Perhaps most predominantly, how the use of intelligence affects change or to simply blackmail a political adversary with.
For example, the NSA has a particular interest in the browsing history of world leaders and high-ranking politicians. Of specific value to intelligence services is any history of pornographic sites in the hope that such data could be used against them publicly (or at least the threat of) should a need arise.
Snowden would also elude to intelligence agencies purposely leading “persons of interest” into compromising situations, often involving alcohol and drugs, in the hope of creating a situation to later blackmail the person with. Or, should the person end up in trouble, perhaps even under arrest for their “encouraged indiscretions”, intelligence services would “bail them out” on the understanding that they “one day return the favor!”
We have written before of the bizarre story of Gareth Williams. During the course of private investigations into the strange death of the MI6 worker, a former Russian intelligence agent, Boris Karpickkov would claim that Russian intelligence (one of whom was undercover at MI6) utilized similar methods. They had blackmailed Williams after taking photographs of him in “compromising situations” after drugging him. When Williams threatened to expose the Russian agent, he was killed, at least according to Karpickkov.
We will look at some of the many ways those in power watch the world’s populations in a moment. First, however, check out the video below for more information of Edward Snowden.
Leading Ourselves Into A World Of Control
There is no doubt that the world is a “smaller place” today than it was even at the start of the 2000s, but certainly than it was in the 1990s with the arrival of the Internet. Suddenly, the entire world and digital mountains of information was right there for us at our fingertips with a mere flick of the switch.
Today, the vast majority of us access the Internet – at least partially – via our mobile phones, which themselves were not at all widespread in the 1990s. While technology raced ahead in the decades following the Second World War, the past quarter of a century has arguably seen the quickest and farthest ranging technological advancements in recorded history.
However, a potential downside to this is that more and more of our personal information and data is floating around somewhere on the information super-highway. And what’s more, that data is still very accessible to governments and intelligence agencies alike.
What’s more, while there are indeed many people who can see these things unfolding and the potential damage these restrictions will ultimately do to us all, a great chunk of the world’s population is seemingly ushering in this control over our lives without stopping to think twice about it. Indeed, in the words of Bruce Springsteen:
Blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed!
As flippant and throwaway a line that might be to some, there is a lot of truth in that very basic statement. And it would appear that those grounds are being prepared every day. Perhaps nothing makes that point more clearly than another piece of fiction. This time, one written over 70 years ago.
A Look Back To “1984” (In 1949)
The (now) infamous book 1984 by George Orwell first entered the public arena on the 8th June 1949. Today, seven decades later, the fictional tale appears evermore prophetic and, to a certain degree, if we take into account, rightly or wrongly, the actions of the age of political correctness – self-fulfilling.
For example, in the modern world, many Internet platforms and websites are taken down in the name of protecting society from “fake news”. On the surface, this sounds a good thing. The fact is, though, that many legitimate and simply alternative platforms, unintentionally or not, are swept away at the same time.
Of course, in 1984 what was “acceptable speech” and what wasn’t was a decision taken by “the state” – in the name of protecting society from disorder and chaos. Furthermore, “the state” would monitor and spy on their citizens in order to ensure any banned speech was not being used and the rules of a free society were being obeyed. These were called “thoughtcrimes” in Orwell’s novel and those who dare commit them were “banished into non-existence”.
In the modern age, with the aforementioned monitoring of algorithms to pick up on certain words, phrases, and subjects that are considered fake news (or off-limits?) are then removed before any of us have a chance to see them. According to Forbes magazine:
In 2019, social media companies deploy vast armies of human and algorithmic moderators that surveil their users 24/7, flagging those that commit thoughtcrimes and deleting their violations from existence. Those that commit too many thoughtcrimes are banished to “unperson” status by these same private companies…and without any right to appeal!
It is an intriguing if grim scenario, of that there is no doubt.
Further Warnings From Contemporary Fiction!
While such warnings of blind belief in authority have been used in many films, perhaps one of the best pieces of fiction in more contemporary times, and from the Hollywood studios of Tinsletown itself, might be the rather brutally titled Demolition Man from 1996. While the film itself is awash with cheesy lines, even cheesier shoot-out and beat-em-up scenes, underneath is a rather morbid and once more, eerily accurate prediction of the near future.
Much like the book 1984, all activity – including “bad language” – is monitored, with fines for breaking such rules issued on-the-spot by “the state”. Furthermore, anything “the state” considers “bad” for a person is ultimately banned outright.
In short, what appears on the surface to be a peaceful and prospering society is actually one that has forgotten to think for itself and has instead submitted to “the state” controlling every aspect of their lives – all in the name of “security” and “freedom”. Ring a bell, right?
Of course, in the film, the person in charge of this utopia very much has their own agenda – all in the name of the “greater good of society”. And while we should be careful to keep the distinction between fiction and fact, even conspiracy, very clear, the fact is, such things have happened before. And if we, as a collective, blindly submit without question to those who might wish to control us – in whatever manifestation they come – it will undoubtedly happen again.
You can check out the short scene from Demolition Man below. It features the leader of the “resistance group” – essentially, anyone who dares to question the “officially sanctioned” way of life – who live underground away from the spying and monitoring forces of “the state”.
Digital Eyes and Voice Recognition Software
If you go to any city or even large town today, chances are you will see the hundreds of CCTV cameras looking at you. Not always prominent, sometimes very much so, but there nonetheless.
For example, in the United Kingdom, there are an estimated 5.9 million CCTV cameras in operation. That is one camera for every eleven UK citizens and puts the UK at the top of the list in terms of monitoring the populace. The United Kingdom is not alone, with almost every country with access to such technology having installed extended and connected “security” systems.
Furthermore, the technology behind these eyes in the sky is ever increasing. China, for example, utilizes facial recognition technology on a grand scale and can track any of its citizens in a busy, moving crowd. While this is no doubt a great aid when hunting down genuine criminals who pose a threat to life, there are understandable concerns about the abuse of such intrusive technology.
In 2015, Tony Porter, a former UK police officer would claim to the media that number plate recognition technology was being abused by many police forces. The software is widespread throughout the UK in order to easily track down uninsured drivers. However, according to Porter, it is “one of the largest data gatherers in the world!”
The expression “the walls have ears” also looks set to become a reality. Russian company “SpeechPro” claim their software can record, contain and match millions of voices. What’s more, it can match them from a phone call to its database within a matter of seconds. This voice recognition software looks set for installation throughout much of the United States after “successful” trials in Mexico. Literally, anything you say, regardless of location, would stay somewhere, electronically.
Technology Advancements For Whose Benefit?
So, what do they do with all that data, and can it really be to their advantage? In short, lots, and yes. And, like other intrusions into the private lives of citizens, the reasons are the same. The “fight against terrorism” and the “security concerns” of the populace.
For example, the vast majority of purchases today take place via a debit or credit card. Not only is there a record of every single purchase, but these transactions can be viewed in real time. This means that before you have even left the store, potentially, someone sat thousands of miles away has a full inventory of you have just bought.
The ever-increasing drive to “go cashless” is quite rightly viewed as short-sighted by some. Not least due to the potential for the “system” to refuse your debit or credit card. Most of us in that situation would use cash to complete the transaction. That wouldn’t be an option without “hard cash” in society. Nor would the option to keep a purchase private, whatever it might be.
Even supermarket loyalty cards are a little more than they seem. What this allows chains to do is monitor exactly what each person buys. They then tailor “special offers” specifically designed to match your purchase patterns. Although not particularly malicious, the UK government also see this data. And in the interests of “public health” would look to “offer advice” to people with “unhealthy” shopping habits.
“Smart” Technology Everywhere!
There is no denying the Internet and smart technology makes many people’s lives easier and of a higher quality. There is, however, a drawback with such technological devices – basically, all have the potential to record information about you.
Smartphones, for example, basically record every move you make for up to a year. And it is not too much of a stretch to think that data resides elsewhere, permanently. Smart TVs also have inbuilt microphones and cameras, as well as automatic connection to the Internet. Aside from the risk of identity theft due to unsecure networks, as crazy as the notion is, anyone who has access to the network, could use the camera and microphone to watch and hear everything you do and say.
They will even record and store online searches. Certain “keywords” raise a flag, for example. It is easy to understand the genuine reasons this would be useful. The fear of governments and intelligence agencies using such information to their own ends, however, is also understandable. Perhaps even planting or twisting such data in order to compromise an opposition is not unheard of.
Of even more concern to many is the apparent push to have microchips placed into the world’s population. This has happened already in many places around the globe. Usually through an employer “offering” to have their workers “chipped” to make their life easier. Many companies involved in the technology are apparently rabid to roll out such schemes further.
And they cite the ability a person would have to pay for purchases by just swiping their hand. Or even being able to unlock their house with such a chip. Once chipped, however, there is no knowing what information is transmitted from it. Or perhaps more worryingly, to it.
Storage Of Data “Undoubtedly Unlawful!”
In June 2019, a personal data watchdog would go as far as to state that the MI5 was “undoubtedly unlawful” in their use of the British populations’ data. More specifically, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner would claim that not only did data remain on their systems for too long, but it was also not stored safely. Perhaps of even more concern is that the high court in the United Kingdom was aware of these breaches as far back as 2016 but did nothing to bring the information into the public arena.
On this occasion, or at least as far as the spin on the issue, this was not so much a malicious intention to “snoop” on people for the sake of it – although, at least to some, that is certainly not that much of a stretch of the imagination – but rather a series of “serious errors”. However, due to the serious nature of the issue, it has led to some questioning the authenticity of the warrants applied for.
Furthermore, they would face accusations of a “historical lack of compliance” concerning the issue.
Where the issue goes from here, of course, remains to be seen. However, it is unlikely to be the first breach of the public’s data in such a way. Whether intentionally or not. In fact, when we look at where this collection of our data comes from, it might surprise us to learn that the most innocent of items can collect such data.
Facial Recognition “Dangerously Irresponsible!”
Beginning in 2014, several police forces would begin trialing Facial Recognition technology. By the early summer of 2019 opposition to the increasing rollouts were themselves increasing. Not before several people faced on the spot fines, however, for covering up their faces to avoid detection. One critic of the technology and the decision to continue rolling out trials would label it “dangerously irresponsible”.
And it is this type of authoritarian attitude that is most troubling to many. Ultimately, we are treading down a path where the key distinction in law of being innocent until proven guilty is not so much blurring but being erased altogether.
And, as mentioned above, this authoritarian control of every aspect of our lives is being ushered by those using such issues as “security”, playing on the fears of the general populace and so forcing them to “need” their protection all the more.
Perhaps of more concern, however, is the fear that innocent people were “profiled” incorrectly, with a particular problem correctly recognizing non-white faces. Given the diverse make-up of most western populations, and certainly in the UK, this is a problem that should not have allowed the technology to leave the drawing board. One source would claim almost 100 people received incorrect recognition by such technology already.
Of even more concern, at least to some, is the fact that the Metropolitan police boss behind the rollouts is Cressida Dick, who was the woman in charge and essentially gave the order to execute an innocent Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menzies, on the London underground. A death that should have been avoided and begs the question as to why someone who oversaw such a tragic and preventable death has the green light to spy on the population at large.
Analysis Of Data Can Build A Picture Of Someone’s Life!
Although it is perhaps still speculation, the potential for using this information against a person for somebody else’s own means. For example, such things as “metadata” gives those with access to it a surprisingly detailed amount of information. And furthermore, it allows those reading such data to build a picture of a person’s everyday life.
Everything from where we go, who we speak with, what we purchase, even down to what we are reading. Everything is available to the powers that be as and when they want it.
What’s more, a great deal of the time, computer software is trained to pick up on certain words, phrases, or even combinations of these, which although could be completely innocent and within context, can then be flagged up for further human inspection.
And as we have seen already above, it isn’t merely with things you type. There is an increasing number of devices and technologies in our own homes that can, and very likely do, record every word we are saying. Whether that information finds its way into government and intelligence services hands is perhaps up for debate. The fact is, though, that information is retrievable whenever such an agency wants it. And for any reason.
Increased Monitoring Increasing The Risks Of Terrorist Attacks?
What’s more, despite the general public believing that this ever-increasing encroachment on our collective privacy is an inconvenient but welcome price to pay to prevent violent crime, and specifically, terrorism, there is some train of thought to suggest that intelligence agencies are so overwhelmed with data that the risk of such a terrorist incident occurring actually increases.
Indeed, it would seem that “false positives” – for example, the word matching exercises mentioned above – simply make it harder to identify the real and genuine targets. As Coleen Rowley of The Guardian stated as far back as 2014:
The bigger the haystack, the harder the terrorist is to find!
That would, of course, make perfect sense. And furthermore, has played out with such tragic incidents. Such as the attack on Lee Rigby, whose killers were already on intelligence’s radars. Or the Boston Marathon bombing could be another incident that might have been prevented. Had it not been for the sheer volume of information that seemingly buried warnings the FBI received about the Tsarnaev brothers.
With that in mind, why do intelligence agencies the world over continue to access these vast amounts of digital data? Speculative as it might be, there is a sense of opportunism surrounding such data collection. For example, authorities continue to push for increased access to our private lives. Whether through direct “snooping” to our email and online correspondence. Or by setting up facial and even voice recognition software in motion in all public places. This should enforce that feeling of opportunism in all of us. And not least, make us ask why are being watched more and more.
Activities Taking Place “The Public Wouldn’t Believe!”
Before we sum up and consider where we collectively go from here, here are a few notes from conversations. All with people around such issues as security and surveillance.
No writer likes to use anonymous sources, not least as there is no way to check on their authenticity. However, most writers also understand perfectly the need, on occasion, for anonymity. And will most likely choose when to use an anonymous source and when not to. Basically, how much do they personally trust the credibility of that person?
One such source, quite matter-of-factly but very much anonymously would make some remarkable claims. The discussion was very much on the British government and intelligence services. However, it is not that much of a stretch of the imagination that the situation is very much the same across the western world.
Perhaps the most ominous parts of the conversation revolved around the following, (paraphrased):
If the public knew what was going on around them, they wouldn’t believe it. They just wouldn’t believe it! Some of the operations, and some the activities that take place…
The purposeful trailing off allowed us to think about that notion for a moment. Upon pressing whether that meant such activities might be “questionable” to most everyday members of the public the facial expression in response was very telling. Perhaps we should question things more and go through every piece of information with a fine mental comb.
A Dark, Deadly World Most Of Us Don’t Want To Know About!
How seriously should we take such issues as “national security” and the mass surveillance that comes with it? And how seriously should we take some of the bizarre and more than suspicious charges leveled at those who seemingly wish to do something about it, or even just bring it up for public debate? And what about those who meet untimely ends?
For example, how many people from high-ranking political or intelligence positions really do die of “sudden” heart attacks? How many people with different ideas to the state really have “sudden” road traffic accidents? How many of these people really have “secret and questionable” pasts? Ones that come up to bite them at just the wrong time, or right time depending on one’s perspective? And how much of what goes on is what we actually think?
Just for a moment, if you are a sports fan, think of the abundance of camera angles that are available. All for our enjoyment of whatever sporting event of your choosing. Now think of the technology that has been available to mere sports broadcasters for the last 20 or 30 years. Think of the way that camera can pick something up from one side. And then, in the replay, swing right the way around and give you the full view from the other side. Look at the 360-degree cameras available to anyone who wishes to purchase one today. Think of the tracker systems you have on your phones that plots your entire route?
With all of these things in mind, how long do you seriously think these types of technologies have been available? At least behind the closed doors of security? How much of what we do is watched? And how much actual privacy do we still have?
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