This is something that concerns people who are avid internet users. It does not concern people who do not need the internet or who do not use the internet, either because they don’t understand it or because they were already too old when it was invented. So if you are one of these people who do not really use the internet extensively, or do not understand it, you can move on to another article. The reason I am saying this is because a lot of people, who don’t understand the internet and are not deeply affected by it, express opinions to undermine the importance of online privacy. Of course, if you have not sent hundreds of thousands of messages during the past years to hundreds of people online, you don’t care if the US intelligence intercepts the 5 messages you sent, about your grandma’s apple-pie recipe. But what if you have been breathing and living the internet since the end of the 90ies? What if you have been lurking on community forums, chat rooms, meeting people online and then offline? What if you had long lasting friendships, relationships of both business and personal nature online? What if you have discussed matters that are deeply important to you and exchanged research ideas with experts from the other side of the globe? What if you have confessed your deepest secrets, hopes, dreams and anxieties through the internet? To some people, their email and social media inbox was a sacred temple and the provider something like a God.
So what do you do when your God betrays you? You become enraged. You become the wrath of God himself.
It was around 2005 that most of us started using the gmail services. During the years 2000 and 2005 spam was such an incredible and unsolvable problem. I, personally, spent countless hours fighting the spammers, reading headers and tracking their providers. Sending numerous emails to the abuse departments, only to realize that the providers were part of the problem. They didn’t want to take action. Even when some of them did take action, for every spam website I reported, dozens new ones were ready to take its place. Being the Robin Hood of spammers was utopian and time consuming. And then came Gmail. It was just so good. It filtered ALL spam efficiently and effectively. Gmail defeated Spam and we were all celebrating it’s arrival. Little did we know that it was TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. Gmail offered vast amounts of storage space for that era. The storage along with the search option made it clear that we now did not have to waste time sorting and deleting unnecessary emails nor backing them up offline. We could simply keep everything online and use the search to find what we needed within seconds. I started to trust google more than I trusted my own system. Because disasters have struck my system and I could not recover data, but I knew that the data I had stored on my Gmail accounts were impervious to disaster, Google was invincible, Google was a God.
The years passed and every time an internet-illiterate person would ask me to create an email for them, I made them a Gmail account. To this day, I am not sure how many people I have led to the “mouth of the wolf”.
At some point we did suspect that Google was storing information. But we thought it was anonymous data used for commercial purposes. It was obvious that the ads scanned the content of the email to produce relevant results, but who would believe that anyone would use this data in an unlawful and unethical way? To spy massively on everyone? Nobody did.
Even after the Snowden revelations in 2013 we were not sure what was going on. We believed, nay hoped that even though the US intelligence did have the capacity to read our emails, they would only do it if there was a suspicion of wrong doing. Turns out that was not the case. They just massively collected all data they could get their hands on. Massively spied on everyone’s emails and social media messages. We are talking here about MASSIVE PWNAGE! We are talking about the largest PWNAGE of the history of mankind. The paradise of the hacker, the greatest dream of an unethical hacker fulfilled. Sometimes I wonder, whether the greatest motivation is really money and not some perverted sense of online voyeurism. Are these guys really that clever or utterly wasted?
Oh and then we have those people who defy facts. Let’s forget that PRISM existed for a moment:
Let’s ignore Snowden for a second. Let’s assume that after his revelations the surveillance did stop, as many people have suggested to me. Now everything is safe. Well is it? Just a few days ago we found out that Yahoo freely opened up the gates to ALL its emails for the US intelligence to scan in 2015!!! Not before the Snowden revelations (2013) but in 2015!!! Have you ever sent an email through Yahoo? Well now they got it. “Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States,” was the company’s answer. Oh well, what kind of laws are these that allow blanket surveillance? What kind of society deprives it’s citizens of the basic right to freedom of thought and expression? What kind of society justifies mass control through probing into our communications without any suspicion of wrongdoing? A sick society.
The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.
Security Guru Bruce Schneier said on a lecture in 2014: “We built systems that spy on people in exchange for services”.
The question now is when will we actually accept that blanket surveillance does take place. How much more proof do we need? When will we realize the importance of these violations? When it is too late to act? And what can we do about it? Let’s not take part. We need to move away from any US services or use them as if anything we say or do within those services could one day be public. Because as we did see, the organizations that store our data are not impervious to hacks and hacking nowadays seems unstoppable. There are no guarantees that neither the hosting companies nor the intelligence organizations can keep our data safe, even if they were using them only for “security” purposes. And if you really want to keep your communications private, encryption seems right now the only almost full-proof method.