This is the title of a 2014 documentary film about the revelations of the American whistle-blower, Edward Snowden. I have been watching it, from a recent TV showing. But this is not a film review, far from it.
I think we are all aware that governments have the ability to monitor electronic communications. There have been enough examples over the years, and a growing list of former employees happy to report on what they were required to do. The general opinion of ‘the man in the street’ seems to follow the old adage that if you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to hide. Many believe that some surveillance is necessary to follow the activities of those engaged in terrorism, or others who might be attracted to that path in the future. I think that is is fair to say that until recently, we were content to believe that only suspicious people were being monitored, in an effort to stop any outrages before they could take place.
We now know differently, if we bother to look and read. Government surveillance of the activities of individuals, in the countries of the so-called ‘free world’ is vast. It is happening on a scale that is almost unimaginable in its scope and complexity. Snowden’s revelations are hardly news. They are old hat, aren’t they? But have you ever examined them in detail, as you can by watching this film? Once the plain facts are presented, it really is breathtaking.
The CIA and NSA in America, with the assistance of GCHQ in England, and the governments of many other countries around the world, are engaged in electronic monitoring on an industrial scale. They receive information from all the mobile phone providers, land line providers, cable TV companies, Internet service providers, and every e mail company and social media platform. If you use a telephone, they know when you made the call, who to, and what you said. If you send an e mail, log on to Facebook or Twitter, Google forums, text messages, in fact anything- they know what you posted, and every word that you typed. Even as I type this, someone somewhere can watch it in real time, if they choose to do so. If you think that this is far-fetched, or not practical to achieve, consider this. The Americans have a purpose-built facility that can monitor 20 billion items of data at each terminal. They work at a rate of 125gb a second, and just one building has 20 terminals running these programmes. That’s 400 BILLION pieces of information going into one place, every day, seven days a week.
Naturally, this is not all viewed in real time. It is stored, selected, and scanned. Key words, certain phrases, use of language, communications with another country; these and many other ‘markers’ are flagged up, to make you a ‘person of interest’. Once you are elevated to this level, then your bank card and credit card transactions are monitored, as well as your travel movements, use of a pre-paid travel pass, or any movement involving your passport. Your home phone and mobile phone can be fixed to act like transmitters, alerting the watchers to a new communication, which is then listened to in real time. The same applies to your home computer, tablet, or laptop. All can be hacked into with ease, as the companies providing your service hand over the passwords and keystroke patterns to the authorities without question. All this is being done in the name of National Security.
Skype and Face-Time communications are also insecure. They can watch you make the calls, and see who you are talking to, as well as record every word that is said. If you have a Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Firefox, Hotmail, Outlook, or any similar e mail programme, everything you do on it is all handed over without hesitation. There is not a single mainstream provider of communications technology that refuses to comply. If it is considered necessary, your entire everyday life is mapped out. What you spent, where you went, who you met and spoke to, what you did at work, every image or line of text you ever looked at online, it’s all available to them. If they so wish, they can even remotely control your computer, making it seem as if you have looked at certain sites, or engaged in activity of a criminal nature on the Internet. Even hard evidence from computer hard drives is no longer safe to be accepted as fact. If you think this is either exaggerated or impossible, you would sadly be wrong.
Consider the main whistle-blower, Snowden. He had a successful career with the security services in America. He lived a comfortable life in Hawaii, coming from a stable background in a military family. As a result of his actions, he has become an outcast. He hasn’t made a huge amount of money from doing this, and has lost his passport, becoming a wanted man at the same time. He lives in obscurity in Russia somewhere, and constantly tries to get status as a resident in the EU, in particular Switzerland. It is highly unlikely that he will ever return to anything resembling a normal life, or that any country other than Russia will grant him exile. Why would he do all this, unless what he is telling us is true?
In England this morning, there is much discussion on the TV News about the involvement of GCHQ in the surveillance of the population here. Government committees are feigning surprise and outrage, and investigative journalists are claiming to be reporting startling new revelations. However, a government committee has ruled this afternoon, that the government is not ‘acting illegally’ by doing this. If you watch CitizenFour, you will know that has all been happening for a long time already. I have no answers, no suggestions as to how to stop it, or even how to fight against it. But it is up to us to at least be aware of it, even if we are not unduly surprised. As to where it will all go, we can only speculate. Privacy is officially dead, and we are little better than mice in a cage, movements and habits subject to unlimited scrutiny. Squeak.