George Orwell’s 1984 could be closer to becoming a reality according to privacy protesters. That’s because the US Government is no longer ashamed about its spying techniques and it’s even finding new avenues in which to spy on its citizens.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, spoke before a Senate panel to discuss his annual ‘assessment of threats’ against the US, where he also seemingly confirmed that intelligence agencies are using the Internet of Things to gain information about potential candidates.
“In the future, intelligence services might use the Internet of Things for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” he told the senate panel.
For privacy advocates it is deeply worrying that the US director of national intelligence would openly admit to spying on American citizens. It directly contrasts with what the FBI claims is happening in the world of intelligence gathering; with that agency saying that it’s finding it harder than ever to spy on threats due to encryption.
Surveillance experts disagree with the FBI’s assessment, going so far as to say that the world is now entering a ‘golden age of surveillance’.
Despite the rise of the Internet of Things however, companies aren’t making it easy for agencies to spy on their customers. Apple is currently opposing the FBI’s request to give it a backdoor into the iPhone, gaining the support of its arch nemesis Google along the way.
That isn’t stopping law enforcement agencies from requesting personal information however. Nest has already been asked by Police to supply it with footage from its Dropcam cameras, while Fitbit data has been used in court against defendants multiple times.
So while encryption is growing in popularity, with Apps like Telegram, a greater number of connected devices could give intelligence agencies the arsenal they need to spy on the population.
Samsung caused controversy in 2015 when its newest TVs warned users not to give out sensitive information while in front of the TV, as it was always listening an analysing spoken data. The company was forced to reassure users that its TVs weren’t spying on them, but Samsung isn’t the only company with an always-listening device.
Android and iOS both have always-listening functionality, while Amazon’s Echo and the Xbox Kinect are also constantly analysing voices in the room waiting for a specific command and improving its voice capabilities.
Security researchers have already warned people about the rise of the Internet of Things, with whole search engines dedicated to showcasing open IoT devices; such as IP cameras.
While Apple, Google and others continue to fight the government for more privacy, some countries are hoping to gain even more powers of surveillance. The UK Government’s Investigatory Powers Bill is designed to give the UK’s intelligence agencies access to more information than ever before; including phone calls, text messages and emails. The agencies will also gain the power to hack into people’s personal devices.
Campaigners will continue to fight governmental departments for their privacy, but it seems in a post-Snowden world, government officials like the US director of national intelligence are less secretive about their spying techniques.