If you have followed the startling revelations about the scope of the US government's surveillance efforts, you may have thought you were reading about the end of privacy, and about the Enemies of the Internet.
"My computer was arrested before I was." a perceptive comment by an internet activist who had been arrested by means of online surveillance. Online surveillance is a growing danger for journalists, bloggers, citizen-journalists and human rights defenders.
Over the last few years, law enforcement agencies have been pushing for unprecedented powers of surveillance and access to your private online communications.
This week the PRISM surveillance scandal has consumed the Internet as the implications of massive scale U.S. Government spying begin to sink in. The US National Security Organization (NSA) is almost certainly one of (if not the) most technologically sophisticated, well-funded and secretive organizations in the world. The Prism initiative was launched by National Security Agency(NSA) in the year 2007.
The surveillance program, known as 'Prism' involves monitoring of not just the United States telecoms companies data including Verizon who have 98.9 million customers , but also of some most popular, widely used, and highly respected giants of the internet, including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple.
What's worse, the NSA got direct access Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and Microsoft servers which allowed it to harvest internet usage details of millions of unsuspecting American citizens. This means for example, that if you usually stay signed in to your Gmail account, all your internet searches using the Google search engine are likely to be harvested by the NSA. The NSA's warrantless wiretapping, and other incidents, showed how easily US surveillance laws could be subverted.
What's interesting about this story is that it's not exactly new information. The only difference now is that the public knows about it, and they are outraged. Perhaps this is the turning point when the general public begins to take their online security seriously.
If Soldiers care about their physical safety, they take a helmet and bullet-proof vest when they venture into the field. Similarly, similarly all of us should equip with a digital survival kit if exchanging sensitive information online or storing it on a computer or mobile phone.
It is possible to avoid all kinds of surveillance by using anonymizing services like virtual private networks (VPNs), or Tor, encrypts your content and hides your origin very effectively when used correctly.
As for phone calls, if you want to shield against eavesdropping or stop the NSA obtaining records of who you are calling and when, there are a few options. You could use an encryption app such as RedPhone for Android, TextSecure or Silent Circle to make and receive encrypted calls and send encrypted texts and files, through your communications will be fully secure only if both parties to the call, text or file transfer are using the app.
Surveillance technology can be used in two different ways. It can be used for the legitimate purpose of combating cybercrime. BUT in the hands of authoritarian regimes, it can be turned into formidable censorship and surveillance weapons against human rights defenders and independent news providers.
Surveillance laws need updating. The lack of legislation and oversight of trade in these digital weapons allows authoritarian governments to identify critical journalists and citizen-journalists and go after them.
All new bills including CISPA in the US, the CCDP in the UK, Central Monitoring System (CMS) in India and the current surveillance proposals in Australia, have one thing in common: they aim to make it easier for law enforcement to monitor everyday Internet activities, such as web browsing and emailing.
It's not like Government are using some kind of advanced technology to do it. So, Make no mistake, abuse of power by law enforcement extends to the online world.