Since WW2 and the coming and passing of the Cold War, technology advances have allowed governments and corporations in most of the developed world to gather and store vast amounts of information just because they can. This is not a secret!
In the nineties the NSA reportedly spent approximately $28 billion per annum on sophisticated information gathering procedures. Satellite surveillance and monitoring/eavesdropping facilities such as that at Menwith Hill in the UK gathered and stored tons of raw information. (reportedly every telephonic/electronic communication in the Western hemisphere.) In contrast, in the corresponding period, only $2 billion per annum was allocated to process this information. (Interestingly the latter figure represented the entire budget allocation of the CIA at that time.)
So gathering and storing as best intelligence practice has long been fait accomplis … We know from the post 9/11 tragedy and the recent Boston Marathon attack, that intelligence agencies have the ability to produce, with huge time/quality efficiency, information about people post events. The big question then became: What about the pre-emptive use of information to forestall undesired outcomes?
This brings us to the Edward Snowden saga! The nuance that pre-emptive processing is taking place seems to have escaped most press reports. Spying on friends and foe alike is not new… Rather it is that people are being looked at as potential suspects even before they act! Governments this far, have access to enormous detail about countries/organizations/corporations/people, but have been inhibited by law as to how they can use what they know.
Think of how in recent months how many governments have floated cases in the public showing the benefit of surveillance as a tool to nab people before they act. Are we being prepared for more security legislation?
We average citizens, fearful of our safety, and that of our children, shrug off concerns as necessary evil. Wikileaks, Anonymous, and other hactivist movements/individuals, including Mr. Snowden, in their frustration at our nonchalance, have tried to underscore how vulnerable the average citizen is to privacy invasion. How futile are any concerns we might have? At present:
- Any electronic communication is fair game for analysis; this includes banking, medical, automobile, telephone and of course our supposedly private internet activity/history; in some countries service providers are compelled by law to open records to diverse intelligence/security agencies;
- Cell/smart phone activity is monitored across borders. For example, the UAE protested a few years ago that the Blackberry Platform was impenetrable to security surveillance. Would this mean that they were looking at all other instrument activity? What business secrets were open to surveillance?
- Urban/private video surveillance/data storage is permanent and lasting
- Corporate data management and client/consumer profiling is a major industry. (Loyalty programs may even allow calculation of something as banal as household bowel movements by analyzing the quantity of toilet paper consumed)
- At a stretch, an intelligence agency owning Norton’s, McAfee, Facebook, Skype et al,(not altogether an impossible consideration) would be invited into the nerve center of individual/organizational activity; More...