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Weekly Session 5 - Digital Surveillance

Secretary Mon, 10/30/2017 - 13:16

Digital Surveillance

In recent years, we saw the world entering the Digital Age – a new wave of Industrial Revolution built upon computerisation of everything around us. With this, the world became more connected, heaps of our information got digitalised and data became the new most valuable resource. Still, in the cyberspace of endless information streams, some hold more value then the others – like people’s personal information. Your location, personality, appearance and sometimes even DNA often becomes a resource for large companies and governments to mine. With great power, comes great responsibility – but what if you don’t have to face any consequences?

With new surveillance technologies, the governments all over the world acquired tools to closely track any person of interest – whether for a good reason or not. On one hand, digital surveillance can enable secret services to uncover terrorist plots and assist in cracking tough cases. On the other hand, the very same tools can be used to track down dissidents and eliminate any opposition to the current government. Moreover, some interpret digital surveillance as a blatant violation of privacy, and with it an Article 12 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This heated debate has been taking place in many countries, especially in highly-digitalised societies of USA, UK, Germany, France, Russia, India and China.

USA’s PRISM is one of the surveillance programmes that made the headlines fairly recently. This program allows NSA to collect any data (whether encrypted or not) as long as it matches court-approved search terms. Its existence was leaked by Edward Snowden, with data collection under PRISM characterised as ‘dangerous’ and even ‘criminal’. Wide usage of such methods in USA is a source of big concerns, as much of Internet traffic goes through American cables and a bulk of Internet infrastructure is located in USA as well. Unfortunately, the leak uncovered other surveillance programmes as well. UK’s GCHQ was also included with its Tempora programme. Some believe that the extent of data collection in the UK is even worse than the US. It is claimed that Tempora collects internet communications irrespective of whether an individual is a suspect of any crime. Additionally, GCHQ and NSA are believed to be sharing both the data and the findings – establishing a large-scale digital surveillance framework.

Another programme long known to general public is the Great Firewall of China. This system not only continually blocks any ‘wrong-think’ Internet resources, but also helped nurture a wave of domestic government-obeying tech giants. These companies enable Chinese citizens to communicate, pay, get around and much more. Meanwhile, Chinese government uses the acquired intelligence to track anyone who disagrees with the current political and ideological regime. More worryingly, China wants to implement a “social credit” rating system, evaluating everyone based on their social, political and financial behaviours. Expectedly, those with low scores may be denied some rights and freedoms – like getting a loan or trying to travel somewhere.