Wikileaks’ latest release of classified documents poses new questions about surveillance powers

Included in the leak are revelations of how the CIA cooperated with British intelligence to engineer a way to convert Smart TV's into wiretapping devices..

Following the recent disclosure of over 9,000 thousand top secret documents by Wikileaks, it has become public knowledge that the CIA have been spying on users of Smart TVs within their homes. The latest evidence has sparked yet another conversation about the current surveillance powers wielded by government agencies.

The leak disclosed that the Samsung F8000 Smart TV could be used to eavesdrop on conversations of users without consent. The program named “Weeping Angel” can, according to the documents,  provide agency hackers access to the smart TV sets through the built-in voice control microphone, enabled remotely. In a press release from Wikileaks it was stated that, “The attack against Samsung smart TVs was developed in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s MI5. After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on. In ‘Fake Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the internet to a covert CIA server.”

This type of behavior by government agencies has sadly become expected, and somewhat accepted by many. Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, in which the NSA – in partnership with allied countries – was found to be tracking and monitoring the communications of every citizen, sparked a debate about the efficiency of mass collection of data and bought about serious questions as to whether we were unknowingly living in a surveillance state. The reality is that although the internet has become an unstoppable highway of information transferal, the privacy of its users is being undermined daily by the powers that be.

A small batch of documents disclosed in the recent leaks were singled out by Snowden, who took to twitter to point out that the documents suggest the United States government is secretly paying to keep US and European manufactured products unsafe, by developing vulnerabilities that intentionally keep security holes open.

Glenn Greenwald’s ‘No place to Hide’ is the detailed story of the build-up prior to Snowden’s information leak, along with detailed deconstructions of the NSA’s secret documents. The book gives great insight into the bureaucratic decisions made by top NSA officials in justifying and covering up attempts to increase mass surveillance. Keith B. Alexander was at the head of the NSA until 2014, following mounting pressure created by the leak. He is described in the book as “the most powerful intelligence chief in the nation’s history”. It is detailed that Alexander’s motto during his tenure was, “I need to collect all the data”, and he was allowed to put this idea into practice throughout the duration of his time as head of the NSA.

The scary reality is that we do live in a surveillance state, where the internet has become the perfect opportunity to undermine privacy in a way that seems almost invisible and therefore deemed unharmful. We live in a time where people don’t really seem to mind they are being spied on daily and are unaware of the sheer scope and accuracy of the data that can be associated with an individual

One program discovered during the Snowden revelations was XKEYSCORE, a system that Snowden described as the following: ” You could read anyone’s email in the world, anybody you’ve got an email address for. Any website, you can watch traffic to and from it. Any computer that an individual sits at, you can watch it. Any laptop that you’re tracking, you can follow it as it moves from place to place throughout the world. It’s a one-stop-shop for access to the NSA’s information.”

With the Internet Of Things swiftly developing in the commercial sector, connectivity to all devices from your fridge to your toaster is being made plausible. The interconnected nature of our social lives is being extended further and further into our homes. The possibility of changing the temperature of the heating from a smartphone has its obvious benefits, but ultimately with so much focus on connecting anything and everything to the internet, there has to be a serious discussion about finding the right balance between convenience on one the hand,  and security and trust on the other. With data breaches and leaks becoming regular news fixtures, it’s understandable to look at modern technology with feelings of anxiety and skepticism.

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