The internet is like a giant, open-air laboratory for bad guys, so it’s no surprise that we’ve got our own version of what might be called viral warfare .
So I’ll be writing a long article later on how the NSA has tried to keep track of smartphone users and their location and other features over the years, and in an earlier article I talked a little about the problems with Google Maps for tracking people based on their location, and about how the NSA might be able to gain access to location information from the smartphone operating systems in order to track phones . That’s still the first part of a long piece, so lets just talk about the second part so we can start with what actually happened with smartphones and their tracking.
Back in 2007, when Google first launched YouTube, one of the things Google promised was that it would be safe, secure, and private to use. But Google and its partners went on to show that this promise was an imposter’s dream and the NSA’s global surveillance machine came to bear on both Google, its users, its partners, as well as users worldwide.
The NSA used this initial promise and took advantage of the inherent privacy and security in smartphones, with one of the most basic of rules that smartphones always ask for user authentication. So the first thing a smartphone asks for is for a username and password. This is so it knows if it’s already used the user’s real name and this is used to help users keep their real identity from being revealed, or worse yet, it could allow the NSA to access any private information that’s on the smartphone like whether someone is gay, cheating on someone, or simply trying to keep a low profile.
Another security measure that’s used for security purposes is that whenever you’ve authenticated, the device encrypts all private messages, such as “hello” or the number of your contact list. This ensures that when you enter your phone number, it is always private. And even in some cases we have seen the usage of this encryption: when I entered my phone number, but with the username that I used to authenticate, I was given a fake username to enter. Because my phone number was encrypted, I never had to reveal it. Just by typing in my phone and username together, I could send my password, which is the same as a lot of my other information, such as my email address via text. Because so many apps have this built in, it’s a simple way to use a generic phone number. As a security concern, most people don’t make it a habit to put their phone number into all of their apps, though this is still something that’s easy to do.
So when did smartphones start being a target for snooping? In a sense, all smartphones are always on, with every app running on every device. Even the latest smartphones have built-in microphones, flashlights, cameras and other sensors that are always pointed at them some more than others. This means if ever you try to find something by simply looking at a phone, you’ll find yourself with a list of contacts and conversations that you can track. However, if you turn on location services, it also acts as additional privacy feature by asking for permission and adding local storage as a location.
Now to be fair, I’ve written before about why the government is constantly looking for ways to track and snoop on people, and by using technologies like location services can often get around most of it. But the point stands this is an absolute threat to user privacy, and there are lots of ways to reduce it. Unfortunately, the government hasn’t taken action either in the way it’s done to date.
The US Congress just passed a bill called the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act. It is an attempt to ban adult websites from accessing your web history, and the fact that the bill specifically mentions “candy bars and games” in regards to web cookies only shows that the fact this is a backdoor way to access things that the government wants is only going to increase. Even Apple has come out and acknowledged that this is going to help government agencies hack things. It’s going to further make it more difficult for people to remain anonymous online, and make it much easier for the government to gain access to their data and information.
So let’s return to my first question: Why would it be necessary for the government to have access to your location in the first place?
What I have discovered in being a student of history is that the first world wars are the reason we have government surveillance powers. They started out being just a way to spy, and have turned into more of an arms race. In the last hundred years, the powers to spy on people have only grown, and they are still using it in different ways today than they did back then and I think this is a really big issue in human history. Because of it, at all times and all places, the right to privacy has always been considered the “inalienable right” and is also the