Your digital footprint is tracking you…
In August 2014 the Australian Federal Government claimed that existing surveillance legislation needed to be updated. The reason given? To “combat home-grown terrorism and Australians who participate in terrorist activities overseas”. The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 has since been updated and the Bill that was proposed – the highly intrusive Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015 – passed through both houses of Federal Parliament on March 26th 2015. Digital privacy for Australians legally ended on October 13th 2015 when mandatory data retention began. See more here. In the Senate, the Australian Greens and a small number of cross-benchers were the only politicians who fought against this Bill. Both major parties voted unanimously for this gross violation of our privacy and civil rights.
– “Surveillance in a democracy should be targeted, proportionate and levelled at serious criminals, organised crime and national security threats. This Bill entrenches the opposite.”
(Video used with permission from Senator Scott Ludlam)
WHAT IS “METADATA”?
There are several problems with this legislation, not least of which is the use of the word “metadata”. Most concerningly, the Attorney-General Senator George Brandis has refused to give a clear and concise definition of what metadata actually is. What this means for you is that there is a very blurry line between what is considered to be “content” and what is considered to be just metadata or “information that allows communications to occur”. So there is a very real possibility that the content of your communications will be accessed and stored. Information such as your browsing history, your pin numbers, your passwords, and the actual content of your messages and phone calls can be stored – so be very careful what you share on Skype! Furthermore it is well known from previous experience in Australia, Europe and the U.S. that metadata and other surveillance data are used primarily for non-terrorism criminal cases such as insider trading. Rob Sims from the ACCC publicly supported the new legislation by claiming that it is “absolutely essential” for fighting white collar crime. But why this new focus on white collar crime when the legislation was supposed to be about catching “the terrorists”? Considering that the Attorney-General has reserved the right to use metadata for civil cases, this legislation can now also be used to catch and prosecute people for doing relatively harmless things like illegal downloading. Furthermore, legislation introduced to Federal Parliament the very same day that the Data Retention Bill was passed – the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) 2015 Bill – will now give media corporations extraordinary powers to block websites they deem “harmful” and to prosecute illegal downloaders using, surprise surprise, the new data retention laws. The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 swiftly passed through both houses of Federal Parliament on June 22nd 2015. It begs the question of why the Australian public has been told that they are giving up their privacy and civil rights to catch “the terrorists” when it seems that everyday Australians are the real target of this legislation. See more here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
EVERYDAY TRACKING DEVICES
Surveillance methods that are already part of your everyday life include your credit card and customer loyalty cards and apps; your local library and DVD hire cards; Pay Pal and anything you purchase or book online; your Opal Card and e-Tag; licence plate readers, CCTV and GPS – basically anything that has a digital or electronic aspect to it. Whenever any one of these everyday tracking devices is activated a permanent digital record is created of the transaction – what you bought/borrowed or what you did, when you did it and where it happened.
So what do they do with all this information? Take Amazon for example. Amazon has built a multi-million dollar intelligence cloud for national security agencies to use. This gives the agencies access to all purchases made at Amazon – purchases that in reality are nobody else’s business. Yet all of Amazon’s transaction details are fed into this cloud. The security agencies then analyse it and based on the subject matter of each purchase, the buyer is assigned a “risk rating”. Your browsing history is also recorded. So even if you only view a book or DVD on a controversial topic, you are flagged as a potential risk.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
In early 2015 European Union (EU) border control authorities planned to harass travellers from March 2015 through September 2015 to give up their biometric data. The capture included fingerprint scans, iris scans and facial recognition scans for all forms of travel – road, train, sea and air – for all non-EU nationals who entered Europe. This ‘biometric dragnet’ was a trial run for the EU’s new “Smart Borders” program.
In early 2015 this was the plan – Arlanda, Charles de Gaulle and Madrid airports would be capturing your facial image. At Lisbon airport you would be subjected to facial and iris pattern scans. Moving trains from Gare du Nord in Paris and Lasi in Romania would have taken your fingerprint scans; your facial image would also have been taken in Lasi. If you planned to drive on the roads leading into the border town of Udvar you would have been iris-scanned. If you were caught driving near Sculeni you would have been subjected to both iris and facial scanning. Border control officials on roads leading into Kipoi Evrou in Greece and Vaalimaa in Finland would have compelled you for your fingerprints. Helsinki, Port of Piraeus, Cherbourg and Genoa were the seaports and shipping areas participating in the data collection, so your personal biometric data would have been taken from you in those locations too. Although this program was a trial it was clearly a practice run for a global data acquisition program. Problems with Europe’s Schengen agreement have been used to justify this gross invasion of privacy and imposition of a global totalitarian surveillance state. However as we have all seen it is clearly not stopping “terrorism”. If you don’t already have an e-passport you certainly soon will. If you ever wish to travel overseas again it will soon be mandatory to have all of your biometric data on file and encoded in your e-passport. Welcome to the new global surveillance state. Where billions of innocent citizens are groped, spied-on and treated like criminals while “the terrorists” continue to rape, murder and prosper.
And just a word of advice – if you haven’t already worked it out – anything with the word “smart” in front of it is just another term for surveillance. Smart phone, smart meter, smart watch, smart TV, smart borders, smart parking, smart travel – these are all methods for collecting your data and tracking you. And all for the purpose of catching “the terrorists”. And don’t even get me started on Ancestry.com!
MONITORING AND CONTROLLING YOU TO CATCH “THE TERRORISTS”?
Spying on innocent people is clearly a pretty lazy, unsophisticated and ineffective approach to national security. Clogging up security storage networks with vast amounts of information on innocent people only hinders an agency’s ability to focus on any actual terrorists due to the massive information management burden it creates. It’s obvious that the extent of surveillance we now deal with on a daily basis is not really about catching “the terrorists” at all. It’s increasingly about monitoring everyone’s movements. Monitoring what we do, where we go, who we associate with, and most disturbingly it’s about monitoring the flow of information. Recent changes to the policies of government minions Facebook and Google indicate that these corporations have actually taken the next step. They are now controlling the flow of information.
Facebook now not only monitors your messages (see more here and here) and spies on you in general (see more here, here, here, here, here, here and here), it imposes algorithms on every user’s posts. These algorithms determine how much exposure each post gets. Posts from individuals and organisations who circulate information that is considered to be in any way subversive, or contrary to government (or Facebook board members’) interests, have restricted-reach algorithms imposed on them such that their posts are rarely if ever seen by anyone. See more here.
Similarly, Google – the biggest data miner on the planet – is changing the way its search results are calculated. Search rankings will now be based on an Orwellian artificial intelligence-based “level of acceptableness”, rather than the previous popularity-based system. Google’s AI method analyses data associated with sites related to the user’s search words. The further that this data deviates from state propaganda, the further down in the search results they appear – if they appear at all. And because search engine results are vital to the business model of many organisations, the deployment of this ‘knowledge vault’ by Google will gravely impact the public’s access to information and services – especially from sites such as alternative news sources. See more about Google here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. So just like Facebook, Google is now controlling the flow of information by obscuring and withholding information that the government does not wish to be circulated. That folks, is censorship. Welcome to 1984.
TEN THINGS YOU CAN DO ABOUT SURVEILLANCE
Firstly, for protection when not online, disconnect all hardware when you are not using it (ie. modem, webcam, dongle, etc). Make sure you are completely disconnected from any possible remote access. FBI Director James Comey covers his webcam so you should too! See more here.
For protection when online, various types of software can be used –
1. One option is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) such as Tunnel Bear. This will hide your online identity. If you have a Mac Book Pro use Firefox as your browser and Duck Duck Go as your search engine. This will give you anonymous online searching.*
4. Use spyware such as Spybot. In this new surveillance and data mining age anti-virus software on it’s own is no longer adequate protection against cyber-attack.
5. Most computers have the capacity for remote desktop access. Disable it. For early versions of Windows go to “Control Panel” then “Device Manager” then “System Devices” and you may see a device called “Remote Desktop” or something similar. Disable it. For Windows 10 go to “Search” in the StartUp menu. Type “Services” in the search bar. Click on “Services Desktop App”. Scroll down to “Remote Access Auto Connect”. There will be eight entries related to remote access. Disable all of them. For each one – double click on it for “Properties”; in the “General” tab go to “Startup Type”; change it to “Disabled”; click “OK”. Do this for each entry. While you are in this directory you might like to search through and see of there is anything else you wish to disable. They can always be enabled if it is absolutely required. If your provider or anyone else you trust requires you to install remote access software so they can work on your computer remotely, ALWAYS delete the software immediately after they have finished working on your computer.
6. The Windows application “HomeGroup” is highly suspect. It quietly appears on your computer without your request or permission. You simply boot up as usual one morning and there it is – an icon that wasn’t there yesterday. It is a file sharing application that allows your data to be shared with others. It also contains a “Listening” application which is a HUGE red flag. Disable both of them. You’ll find information on how to do this here.
In your everyday life there are many options to avoid being tracked –
7. Get rid of those customer loyalty cards and apps. Sure, you may lose your discount, but what is your privacy worth to you? They record everything you buy, and your health insurer may not like the fact that you have regularly purchased chocolate, soft drinks, ice cream and biscuits when you want to claim for diabetes treatment in the future. Don’t believe it? See more here.
8. Support local shops rather than buying online. Not only will you keep a hard working Australian in business and their employees in a job, but you won’t be able to be tracked by your online credit card activity when you USE CASH! Remember good old cash? No-one can track you when you USE CASH!
9. Use a pre-paid Opal Card and pre-paid access for your mobile phone/device – both paid for WITH CASH!
10. Finally, the most important thing you can do is to JUST SAY NO! Get educated and get involved. Write to your local Federal member. Better still, make an appointment to SEE your local Federal member. Tell them that you strongly oppose these infringements of your civil rights and freedoms. Find out what’s going on in regards to legislative changes and make submissions to the committees involved. Start the conversations “Who owns my personal data?” and “Where is the oversight on surveillance?”. Australia is still a democracy and you have the right to voice your opposition to any proposed changes to legislation. The level of surveillance currently being rolled out is outrageous – it is totally unnecessary and unjustifiable. The only way to change this dark progression into a surveillance state is to speak up.
For more information about internet censorship and how it is affecting the public’s access to unbiased and propaganda-free information, and how the alternative media are responding to this go here.
For interviews with NSA whistleblowers about surveillance go here, here and here. These clips are time consuming but well worth the investment in order to understand the full ramifications of what is being forced upon us.
Laura Poitras’ documentary CitizenFour is a brilliant, highly informative yet truly chilling account of the Edward Snowden leaks as they happened. It is a very sobering wake up call for all those people who naively claim “I have done nothing wrong so I have nothing to hide”. However questions have been raised about how the leaks have been handled by the journalist involved – Glenn Greenwald. See more here about how Glenn Greenwald has censored the release of the Snowden documents and made deals with the corporate media over the publication of the documents. The BFP Roundtable interview is well worth watching.