Hacktivists and governments don’t eye to eye as each tries to outmaneuver the other in some cyber arms race. Governments continuously find tools to spy on their people. Hacktivists actively subvert government efforts to survey on their citizens. This fight is not new —the cryptowar existed since time immemorial.
Classified documents released by Edward Snowden confirm government agencies involvement in the spying of internet users, individuals and corporations. His leaks revealed the NSA’s access to technological systems powering major tech companies. The NSA also intercepts undersea cables to spy on internet traffic.
What New Laws Mean
Security is the biggest motivation for government surveillance programs. The rate at which governments enhance their monitoring capabilities is unprecedented. In Australia for example, new laws allow the Australian Security Intelligence Organization access to private computer networks without consequences.
Certain laws even require ISPs to retain metadata of individual users for up to two years. Nonetheless, surveillance enhancement through statute is not a preserve of the Australian government alone but all governments around the globe.
Cypherpunk Fights back
Cypherpunk is an international movement whose ideals are against government surveillance programs. The group is pro-privacy. To achieve its goals, the organisation promotes online privacy initiatives while releasing open source cryptographic codes that help users protect their privacy.
But don’t make the mistake of imagining that the cyber privacy agenda is pushed by movements like the Cypherpunk alone. Public figures like Snowden, organisations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlum also engage.
Their efforts seem to be working. According to our research, the use of private networks like TOR has increased significantly since the Snowden cables were leaked.
Snowden, we are told, is working on a tool that will be able to tell users if their mobile device is being monitored to help them avoid it.
Furthermore, uptake of encryption as a service and part of internet systems is ahead by more than seven years. It shows that people take privacy very seriously, and the companies listen. Facebook recently encrypted all Whatsapp messages to give their users that assurance that their information is not monitored.
In an era where the prime ministers openly admit to using Wickr to encrypt communication, it goes without saying that, everyone’s privacy is theirs to protect.
Encryption vs. online crime
Although the fight for internet privacy with proof surveillance tools helps many law abiding citizens, criminals abuse them. For instance, criminals openly engage in the selling of drugs, distribution of child porn, firearms, and stolen identities on the dark net. Malware attacks have also increased due to the abuse of encryption platforms by hackers.
And the presence of tools is making it harder for law enforcement to provide security to users due to complex issues like their inability to find people’s concealed locations, spooked communications and hidden or stolen identities.
The need for more resources to fight cybercrime is more urgent than ever. The arms race within the cyberspace will not end anytime soon.
Can surveillance lessen crime?
There is petite evidence that shows how comprehensive surveillance programs help governments prevent crime. It is not that it doesn’t work, but evidence shows that there are very rare scenarios where securities improve with blanket surveillance of the people.
But as the government works at enhancing surveillance programs to interpret better the big data they get, the risk of collecting such private information increases. This provokes more opposition to private citizen surveillance, the rise of countermeasures…the cycle continues.
Privacy vs. security
Governments seek a balance between the privacy and security but where to draw a line is the conflict. Hacktivists feel there is an injustice committed in unabated surveillance of private citizens with rights to privacy.
Although many academics side with governments with regards to security interests outweighing individual liberties, the war between government and hacktivists is a self-defeating paradox. It will never end.
With government’s inability to draw the line on what is legal or illegal, the burden of security falls with them, so does the responsibility to protect citizens from acts or terror, violence, and crime. How smart will governments find perpetrators who are smarter than them? That’s a question for another post.
Top/Featured Image: By A.B / Wikipedia