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The golden age of surveillance


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If the US “intelligence community” is to be believed, sophisticated encryption, such as the kind currently being defended by Apple against FBI intrusion, has erected serious barriers to government “intelligence gathering.” But in a column for The Guardian, Trevor Timm shows that whatever snooping abilities governments may have lost to encryption have been more than made up for by the “internet of things,” ubiquitous mobile technology, and the general integration of tech into nearly every facet of our daily lives. In fact, Trimm reports that many intelligence experts have called this "the golden age of surveillance." Here’s an excerpt:

While Samsung took a bunch of heat, a wide array of devices now act as all-seeing or all-listening devices, including other television models, Xbox Kinect, Amazon Echo and GM’s OnStar program that tracks car owners’ driving patterns. Even a new Barbie has the ability to spy on you – it listens to Barbie owners to respond but also sends what it hears back to the mothership at Mattel.

Then there are the rampant security issues with the internet of things that allow hackers – whether they are criminal, government or something in between – to access loads of data without any court order, like the creeps who were eavesdropping on baby monitors of new parents. Just a few weeks ago, a security researcher found that Google’s Nest thermostats were leaking users’ zipcodes over the internet. There’s even an entire search engine for the internet of things called Shodan that allows users to easily search for unsecured webcams that are broadcasting from inside people’s houses without their knowledge.

While people voluntarily use all these devices, the chances are close to zero that they fully understand that a lot of their data is being sent back to various companies to be stored on servers that can either be accessed by governments or hackers.

Image of Amazon Echo via The Guardian.