Conspiracy theorists have been enjoying a windfall of riches ever since Edward Snowden emerged from the cyber shadows in May of 2013. The NSA was found to be capturing data on people across the globe, including millions of their own citizens, through their mass surveillance practices. Big Brother’s reach is immense and includes everything from Facebook account data to cell phone records.
A lot has happened since Snowden turned over his treasure trove to journalists in Hong Kong nearly four years ago. For one, Donald Trump now holds the keys to all the elaborate spying tools. Also, those conspiracy theorists had to up their game in order to maintain their position at the fringes of society.
An early opportunity to stand out among their peers came when investigative journalist Michael Hastings died in a strange single vehicle accident less than two weeks after The Guardian published their first Snowden piece. Adding to the intrigue were claims that Hastings was in the midst of putting a piece together about the CIA Director. Feel free to search the worldwide web to see just how many posts are out there about him being murdered through the means of a vehicle hack.
Such claims were easily dismissed for years. A government agency hacking and taking remote control of a vehicle sounds wild enough on its own. Even if you manage to buy into that possibility, it’s even more difficult to seriously believe that they would use that ability to murder a journalist. Certainly there are easier ways to get rid of nconvenient people, right? Now the world is sifting through the latest CIA leaks from 2013 to 2016, which reveals that they did at least explore the ability to hack vehicle control systems. Tinfoil hats are en vogue once again. Wikileaks also revealed that smart TVs and other ubiquitous devices are vulnerable to spy agencies, even when they are powered down. This can be done through a joint CIA/UK programme called “Weeping Angel”.
Initial backlash against privacy abuses was strong, but many Americans had a high level of trust in Obama and didn’t change their behaviour. However, the new reality of the same technology in Trump’s hands is terrifying especially since his Cabinet picks, such as the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, have supported increased domestic surveillance. While Tech companies also faced tremendous backlash after Snowden’s revelations, that has faded and their stock prices are at an all-time high.
In fact, folks are more reliant on technology than ever despite known vulnerabilities. For instance, the new listening devices such as Amazon’s Echo or Alexa were a big seller during last Christmas in the US, despite it being public knowledge that the CIA paid Amazon $600 million to set up a private cloud. These hands-free devices are like personal assistants controlled through voice to play music, provide information and even control smart homes! Think about that for a second, people are paying to bring in a full-time active listening device into their households.
In some ways the latest revelations are an alarming reminder of the price we pay for convenience.
What’s not surprising is that spy agencies continue to push their boundaries when everyone keeps buying products from private counterparts who were revealed to be colluding with the government to provide unfettered access to their private information. The people will need to recover from their technology addiction before the CIA, the NSA, and others will ever rethink their
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2017.