It is no great secret that the government and Big Tech are reading our text messages. Likely this is not some dark corner closet where a few specially selected workers scroll through millions of data points on a minute-by-minute basis. Let’s face it, your latest escapade or late-night tryst is most likely not national security-related.
The problem is not that you are a potential threat to someone. It is that they are a potential threat to you. These companies use massive AI software to track our everyday online activities, log metadata, and record our location points. That includes sifting through messages for keywords or phrases that may be relevant to everything from security issues to increasing revenues by selling you that premium handbag you saw at David Jones.
Think this is overreacting? Look at what is happening in Russia right now. Journalists are being tossed out of the country because they are reporting what is happening around the country. The government does not like these reports because they do not fit the crafted narrative they are trying to disseminate. So they boot reporters and call them criminals, often seizing their phones and scrolling through their messages to uncover any sources or other information sent to news media.
Government Sanctioned Snooping
In 2015, the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Act was passed. This required telcos to hang on to citizens’ metadata for at least two years after its creation. That means any law enforcement agency that suspects you of doing anything wrong can view your metadata for the past two years.
There was an excellent research study by The Century Foundation about what metadata reveals. The researchers were able to show that metadata could be collected, analyzed, and easily interpreted to determine religious affiliate, health status, gun ownership, drug use, and even an unplanned pregnancy.
Yes, we need to keep our citizens safe, but at what sacrifice? We are volunteering away so much of our personal lives from government overreach, and Big Tech is not doing enough to stop it.
In the first half of 2020, Big Tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft received over 112,000 data requests from local, state, and federal officials. The companies complied with 85% of those requests, happily handing over private information about their users.
That is just in the U.S. Imagine if your local police sent in that request. Do you think Australian laws would prevent the same disclosure? This is information like phone calls, texts, emails, photos, shopping histories, driving routes, and so much more.
There was even a leak of U.S. government documents showing that a tracking program on the text messages and metadata of journalists and immigration advocates was taking place. Really think about that for a moment. The government that loves to decry how free it is was actively tracking those that are meant to keep it free.
Why are Your Text Messages Unsafe?
We can learn a lot from the problems journalists are facing. Whenever an organization does a deep dive into government or big tech overreach, there is always a new law or restriction introduced to the general public to make that kind of investigative journalism so much harder.
For example, Australia already has laws requiring providers to hand over a suspect’s communication to the police. But in recent years, our government has passed laws that require encryption services like WhatsApp, Signal, and anything else trying to keep our messages private to allow police to descramble that information.
This is all happening because it is becoming easier to hide our messages, and companies that survive on our data for advertising want to maintain their stranglehold on their revenue streams. They need to be able to read all of our private text messages in order to sell more products and services to us. They do not see a problem with throwing journalists, freedom of speech, or privacy concerns under the bus to grow their profit margins.
Government agencies are not different. Instead of profits, they are monitoring our devices to maintain power. The greatest threat to a government is a free and motivated populous. The best way to control the population is to control the stories being fed to them through media sources like journalism.
We can all dream that we exist in a free society, but when laws are passed to “protect our safety” that actually dig into our personal lives, we should be concerned.
Still think we are overreacting? Watch any crime, mystery, or drama and see how many people use burner phones as part of the plotline. Do you think that idea came out of the blue? No, everyone from government agents to criminals understands that if you do not want to be tracked, you need a phone that has no association with who you are as an individual.
That is precisely why so many journalists are being instructed on how to keep their digital communication safe. Major organizations and news media sites are actively demonstrating what apps to use, how to stay off the government’s radar, and what to avoid while talking with sources so they cannot be tracked.
Covid Changed Everything
No one wants to get Covid. Whether or not you agree with how dangerous the virus is, no one wants to roll the roulette wheel and deal with the effects of Covid. Both Australia and New Zealand launched tracing apps based on Singapore’s TraceTogether software to get the pandemic under control. In our government’s haste to help, they also exposed us to privacy issues.
The tracing program works by using Bluetooth signals to log whenever we are close to another person. Yes, this program was designed to be voluntary, but think about what other information the government is going to get its hands on. How long do you think it will be before we read stories or see movies built on the data collected during Covid as a plot point?
As the world locked down, the increase in surveillance skyrocketed. A recent research paper put it best:
“Through the access to the vastness of data that most individuals make available online, the entities using algorithms are able to perceive aspects about the life of each one of us much more effectively than the individuals themselves.”
Essentially the more government agencies and Big Tech used Covid to track the virus outbreak, the more information they were able to collect on everyday citizens. Suddenly they were able to create profiles and data points that unveiled more information about ourselves than we may ever naturally perceive. That should scare the hell out of everyone.
How to Prevent This Monitoring From Big Tech and Government?
There is no 100% method of completely preventing monitoring of your messages or online activities unless you simply stop being online. However, there are quite a few tricks and tips you can use to increase your online privacy.
We at Freedom Technology and Services are offering two essential tools for protecting your messages deGoogled Phones and Faraday Bags. These devices stop active tracking of your online or digital activity, so you can maintain at least a small amount of privacy. They prevent Big Tech firms from tracking your every single move and allow you the freedom to explore the world without the sense Big Brother is always looking over your shoulder.
To learn more about the products and services we offer to help you maintain your privacy, visit our store or send us a note. We are a leading provider of privacy solutions to Australian and international clients.