Remember when they told you never throw out sensitive information? All it takes is a credit card application for a conventional thief to make a living hell out of your personal finances. What a great piece of advice… for the eighties. Certainly, be aware of the consequences of your actions, but in the modern era, there is so much more we need to be aware of. Are you ready to get scared?
The threat today is so much more than we are used to thinking it is. Modern ‘thieves’ have learned a good deal about programming. Sometimes these characters are the Robin Hood type, stealing from large corporations and giving to charity. Sometimes they steal from the many and give to themselves. Next come the big companies who analyze your life and habits with the resources you only wish you had. Not enough? Consider that when our diplomats travel to certain nations, they don’t carry cellphones or laptops, for fear that paramilitary hackers of other governments will eavesdrop on their conversations through their own devices. That’s right, other nations like China, Russia, and Iran have professional hackers on government payrolls that are working to advance their own causes. And the ugly cherry on top of it all is that our own government is working on new ways to prosecute you in many different hi tech ways.
On the electronic front, sensors have been integrated into everything. Consumption of water, electricity, and Internet are being recorded by your utility companies; and this information has been used by law enforcement to catch everything from marijuana grow houses to music piracy. iPhones are manufactured with magnetometers, digital cameras, microphones, and GPS all stock. We’ve been told that these cameras integrated into phones, laptops, and other devices can be remotely enabled and streamed to an external person. In fact, professional burglars and convicted child molesters have shown on national television how they use these cameras to check and see if the owners are at home. A frequent joke amongst Xbox users is that Bill Gates is always observing through the Kinect microphone and camera, so shout obscenities every now and then to keep him on his toes. The parade of cameras doesn’t stop there; we tolerate them at ATMs, intersections, parking lots, waiting rooms, most stores, flying through the air, driving down every street mapping our homes, and even sometimes in orbit. Besides the candid cam we always find ourselves on, all of our electronic communication is also subject to ears of the walls. Not a tweet, post, email, text, cellular call, or even land-line call is beyond the purview of others. Current counter-terrorism policy flags anyone who uses too many keywords in a single conversation which can result in a headache at the airport at the least.
Speaking of airports, for the past decade we have endured increasing amounts of privacy invasion all in the name of national security. Up until the new millennium all we had to deal with was a bit of radiation and pocket shuffling, and yet now we give the TSA a peep show and it still isn’t effective enough to stop malcontents. Frankly, it seems that more of our terrorists are being thwarted by citizens on airplanes armed with nothing more than their neckties and shoe heels. But let’s say you managed to get past security with all of your personal possessions, you need an official document, a passport, from one government vouching that you are well-behaved to another. Not that these are even really effective, since it seems just about every nation struggles with illegal immigration. So you are out of the airport and roaming around some strange city, now. Your cellphone is constantly broadcasting your location, which it has recently been ruled in court, counts as evidence even though it can’t be confirmed who is actually carrying the phone. Even if you wander around without a cellphone, a very bad idea, odds are you plan to take pictures of your adventure and slap it up on the Internet with a caption detailing the location, volunteering the very information criminals are trying to filch from you all along.
How we spend our money is no longer a private matter. Purchasing trends are useful to big companies because they give insight into how a group of people are willing to spend their money. By careful price manipulation and the right sales at the right times, we can be deceived into shelling our hours of hard work over products we didn’t even know we wanted anyways. Every purchase you use your bank card to make is being scrutinized, and if it looks too suspicious, someone’s funds might end up frozen until a chat is had with your bank manager. When did the banks take it on themselves to act first and ask questions later? You’d think it was their money we were spending. Sometimes we need to move around a large pile of money, and guess who gets an express notice of the transaction: the IRS. They are always watching, and want you to know that they are. Ever since the gangsters of the prohibition era were taken down for tax evasion, they have continued the practice catching white collar criminals and struggling middle class families alike.
It’s a lot to take in, every sentence sent across the digital landscape, every footstep stepped outside of our door is on camera, and every action is being recorded. Sometimes it’s in order to help us, to keep people from taking our phones and wallets and traveling the world on our dime. Sometimes it’s benign, and our corporate overlords are just interested in our spending habits in order to best meet our needs. And sadly, sometimes, it is used for nefarious intent, or even against you just because it looks suspicious. Where is it written that a first world life has to come with all of the Orwellian marionette strings? You would think that our government would have our backs on some of these matters. Just ask the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, who was snuck in via recess appointment to head an agency funded at the Federal Reserve’s back door. Why is this agency under such attack? Because it is so difficult for anyone to expand the responsibility of government, even if the mandate is to protect our citizens from the corporate misconduct. Yet I wish crippling gridlock were the worst we needed to worry about from our government. Everyone took notice when President Obama reluctantly failed to veto the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which re-articulated the legal framework for denying citizens due process. Or SOPA/PIPA, the Internet killing legislation that also headlined in January, that would have crippled most Internet based communities.
So then, what do we do? How can we hope to live a first world life without the constant threat of others bearing down on us?
First, it goes without saying that everyone needs to understand the laws of the land and don’t break them. There are enough problems out there waiting for us without bringing the Justice Department down upon ourselves. Yet, in all honesty this isn’t enough to keep from being victimized.
Second, read the manuals and privacy policies for new gadgets. Understanding what comes integrated into these devices is a huge step towards preventing them from being turned against us unwittingly. Make sure these devices are powered off when not in used and keep them in their storage bags for protection. The truly paranoid may remove the batteries from devices to prevent remote accesses.
Third, explain to your children what they need to be careful of what they say and do when using the Internet, cellphones, computers, and the like. Youth has been no excuse on the whole when calculating culpability. This is just as important as teaching them to look both ways before crossing the street and be careful when talking to strangers. Their ignorance could be putting the entire family at risk.
Fourth, patronize companies that operate in a respectful manner. As an example, if Apple and others continues to manufacture their products in a way that exploits the rural Chinese and lowered trade barriers, then it becomes the consumer’s responsibility to do the right thing; buy American.
Finally, pay attention to politics. Here is a shout-out to the young voters of this nation, who are so disillusioned by the process; don’t give up! The powerful few are very practiced at exploiting the apathy of the voting public at large. Every election is a chance to make yourself heard. Elect representation that stands on the side of a free Internet instead of another ground war overseas. Who is working to correct trade imbalances and fiscal missteps, and who is working to keep homosexuals from being full members of society?
I think it’s time to bust out the tinfoil hats and bottled water. Best of luck out there, reader.