Most news sources did not clearly point out the fact that there is nothing in the CIA secret documents leaked by WikiLeaks that shows illegal surveillance of Americans
A few days ago WikiLeaks published Vault 7, a collection of thousands of documents revealing CIA hacking and surveillance secrets, including the agency’s capability to break into phones and operating systems.
It is important to highlight that unlike Snowden’s leaks, there is nothing in these secret CIA documents that shows current illegal surveillance of Americans.
All CIA secret documents say is that CIA has the technical knowledge to implement surveillance techniques. However, Vault 7 is supposed to be just the beginning of a series of relevant publications, hence this latest news story revives one paramount question: how much privacy are we willing to sacrifice on the altar of security?
Living in the United Kingdom, the country with the wider CCTV coverage in the world, I think about this issue every day. While walking on the streets of London at night, I feel safer when I see the sign saying “CCTV in operation”, however at the same time I am horrified of knowing that every step I take is being recorded.
CIA Secret Documents: Privacy vs. Security
Privacy vs. Security is one of the most controversial debates and it becomes increasingly meaningful as technology advances. There is a common belief that we must fully sacrifice the one in the name of the other. However I believe that by having a) government officials that can be trusted, b) appropriate legislation and c) complete transparency we can achieve the maximum amount of both security and privacy, sacrificing some of the later only in extreme cases.
- Having government officials that can be trusted: In my opinion is not terrifying that CIA and other government agencies have the knowledge to control operating systems, as it is part of their job to catch up with the latest technologies in order to assure the citizens’ safety in case of danger. The above becomes scary only if we consider that right now the wrong people are in power because what matters is in what way this knowledge is being used. Electing people with radical ideas about the security of the nation (ideas such as building a great wall to protect the border), brings us one step closer to the misuse of CIA’s specialized hacking knowledge.
- Appropriate legislation: There should be amendments to current legislation making illegal to violate the citizens’ privacy in the name of something else other than security, such as consumerism. Right now, websites such as Facebook use tracking cookies and sophisticated software to collect information about the consumers’ preferences and sell it to advertisers, often even without the consumers’ permission. Sacrificing privacy for profits is something that should become illegal.
- Complete transparency: Citizens should be able to know directly from their government to what extent the government interferes with their privacy. Then, publishers such as WikiLeaks will not have a reason to exist and all the fuss that was made for no reason after their publication would be avoided. Usually, relevant news reports are presented as being even more important than they really are, causing unnecessary mass panic.
This is exactly what happened with Vault 7: most news sources did not clearly point out the fact that the secret documents only contain the potential capabilities of CIA and not any implementations.
For instance, one of the CIA secret documents describes a hacking operation called “Weeping Angel”, which has to do with using Samsung TVs as listening devices. Only a few news sources emphasized that CIA was exploring the possibility and right now there are not any TVs used for spying purposes. Even fewer mentioned that a USB has to be plugged in the TV for this spying operation to take place, which if mentioned, would make people significantly calmer.
By underscoring that the CIA secret documents leaked by WikiLeaks do not show any misuse and infringement on civil liberties as many have thought, opens the well needed public discourse on the coexistence of privacy and security. As technology becomes even more advanced, having the appropriate laws, complete transparency and trusted politicians are the three crucial components for assuring that we do not have to sacrifice privacy at the altar of security. Let’s start talking about this issue in a constructive and more informed way.