Mass surveillance is still happening in 2021
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Mass surveillance is still happening nowadays, it should come as no surprise since the revelations of Edward Snowden the NSA whistleblower, little has changed. What changed? Nothing major towards stopping mass Surveillance. The biggest victory so far is the takedown of the privacy shield by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
In this blog post, we will breakdown what is Mass surveillance, what it means for you as a consumer and if there is a way to stop it.
What is Mass surveillance?
Mass surveillance is the systematic collection & analysis of data. It is indiscriminate, which means even the most law-abiding citizens are subject to this mass collection of data. Mass surveillance is a major threat to our basic human rights and our democracy. Imagine everything you say or text being recorded and then stored in a massive data center. What for? Governments of the world say it’s for our protection to identify potential threats and prevent them before they even happen. It may be true however that does not warrant the need for Mass surveillance. Most governments, not just the US conduct mass surveillance.
How is Mass surveillance conducted?
There are surveillance alliances between countries namely Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen eyes. These agreements allow countries to share collected data from mass surveillance operations. The most aggressive agreement is the Five eyes agreement. Countries like USA, UK, and Australia participate in that agreement. If you live in one of those countries expect heavy surveillance.
However, it’s not only governments that have prying eyes. Big tech players such as Google, Facebook act as intermediaries to our governments. These companies hand over data even without being compelled by government agencies. They feed data to them. Have a look at the screenshot below to get an idea of what data ‘can’ go to government spy agencies. This is just the tip of the iceberg, more antics happen behind the scenes and we are completely in the dark. Read more on NSA bugs Facebook for spying.
By intercepting all your unencrypted online communications they are able to profile you. By they we mean both governments and conglomerates.
A few examples, all your messages via social media channels and all your email exchanges. Basically, every time you communicate in an unencrypted network assume that someone is listening. The solution? Encrypt everything, however, we will get to that later as it is not that easy.
Why mass surveillance should concern you
Mass surveillance should worry you even if you are not a terrorist or an unlawful person. Imagine every time you have a private moment someone would come in without knocking on the door and would take a peek, how disturbing is that? The same concept applies to online privacy, everything you say online can be ‘potentially’ intercepted.
Why mass surveillance is detrimental to our society:
- Mass surveillance destroys our democracy and everything democracy stands for.
- It creates a hostile environment full of suspicion, doubt and threat.
- Its applications are unclear.
Not only is Mass surveillance a violation of our basic human rights, but we are still unaware of its applications. Why is our data collected and for what purpose? How will our data be used in the future? So many questions yet we get zero answers. Mass surveillance has been totally exposed yet it’s still happening in 2021. Another disturbing fact that should worry all of us is that Mass surveillance creates an environment that encourages fear and suspicion.
Individuals who are aware of Mass surveillance express themselves differently and don’t say what they want to say. But rather they say what governments want to hear. If this is not stopped in the next couple of years, surveillance will get more aggressive. For instance, in a decade or less police might have the authority to barge in at your house for something you said online. This looks like a scene from a dystopian movie. It may not have happened yet but it may happen if we don’t stop mass surveillance.
Is there a way to stop Mass surveillance?
The answer to that is not as simple as it may sound. It’s like asking how do we stop racism? There is no policy, no rule for that. The only way to combat mass surveillance would be to encrypt literally every form of online communication. STARTTLS is not enough, end to end encryption is required to get the job done. End-to-end encryption makes sure that no intermediaries can read the actual message while it travels to its intended recipient. However, governments around the world are trying to ban encryption to prevent us from slowing down their surveillance schemes. Another way would be to support NGO’s who fight for online privacy. Mailfence donates to organizations like EFF & EDRI.
US senators are trying to pass the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act (LAED). Basically, a law that allows the US to ban end-to-end encryption. At the time of writing this, the act is not in effect, however, if it passes it could be catastrophic to our democracy. The EU released a five-page resolution draft that seeks to explore approaches in the future in order to ban encryption. Another way to hinder mass surveillance is to stop using “free” software from Big tech players. As we said at the beginning of the blog post, these companies feed massive amounts of data to spy agencies. Check out this open letter, cooperation of Mailfence and other tech firms.
The fight for mass surveillance is going to be an essential fight towards protecting our democracy. However, it is possible if we come together and fight for it, there might be a chance we can demolish this scheme. We have to fight for it, our basic human rights and our democracy depend on it.
– Mailfence Team
Patrick is the co-founder of Mailfence. He’s been a serial entrepreneur and startup investor since 1994 and launched several pioneering internet companies such as Allmansland, IP Netvertising or Express.be. He is a strong believer and advocate of encryption and privacy. You can follow @pdeschutter on Twitter and LinkedIn.