The dark world painted by George Orwell in his classic novel ‘1984’ has been with us for many years, notably after 9/11 when surveillance of private data by US intelligence agencies was stepped up. Since the US National Security Agency (NSA) leaks in 2013, we have known that our privacy is under threat from a network of state agencies. Moreover, after last year’s tussle between Apple and the FBI over the ability to hack iPhones, there is little doubt that spy agencies have been looking for loopholes in our electronic devices. While we may have thought that spy agencies still had some catching up to do, a new WikiLeaks release of CIA documents has revealed that these agencies have penetrated our lives more than we could have imagined. The thousands of leaked documents have catalogued the CIA’s cyber-spying techniques till early 2016. Most worryingly, they reveal that the CIA has been able to find a way to hack people’s smart TV sets to listen in to the conversations they are having in their private lives. While the current technique requires fitting an actual bug to the device, there is no doubt that this revelation will set alarm bells ringing in the industry. Similarly, while the CIA still cannot decrypt encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Signal, it has been able to find ways through Android and IOS operating systems. Keywords such as ‘terrorism’, and now we are told ‘Islam’, have been searched for by US agencies in the apparent hope of detecting militants.

This goes far beyond the issue of personal privacy. It leads us into a world which holds multiple dangers for all kinds of people and leaves them open to action from government, visa issuing authorities, employers and other groups. The fact that social protest and political actions all over the world are increasingly organised over social media makes it still more tempting for agencies to pry into this world. What is heartening is that the leaks confirm that there are still conscientious objectors, such as Edward Snowden, who are willing to step up and tell us when these agencies overstep their limits. The trouble, however is that – like the NSA leaks before – it seems no one is really paying attention. The digitisation of our lives has continued to go on unchecked. The CIA has attempted to claim that the leaks do it harm, but the only harm possible is to us – ordinary citizens. The NSA leaks confirmed that Big Brother was listening in to our every conversation. The CIA leaks confirm something far more sinister: Big Brother can actually control our conversations. There is the possibility that evidence could simply be planted if the CIA is able to control a digital device. Alarmingly, some tech giants are reported to have entered into agreements with intelligence agencies to assist them in their actions. Others such as Apple and WhatsApp maintain that they are making every effort to ensure privacy. The internet has offered human beings much freedom in the current age. But it has also opened up new ways for others to invade our privacy and our rights. The current leak may not go beyond a certain level of classification but it has opened us up to the scary new digital world we have to contend with. Unfortunately, it is hard to see any real change coming at a time when technology allows barriers set up to guard privacy to be broken through.

Source: https://www.thenews.com.pk