Who’s behind the lens?

IMG_1693 copia (https://flic.kr/p/9FiR7k) by David Burillo (CC BY 2.0)

Every now and then when I’m on my laptop writing assignments or scrolling through Facebook I find myself looking up and noticing this tiny eye staring back at me. It’s always just there, watching. It calls itself a ‘webcam’ and says it can be used for applications like Photo Booth or Skype, but I’m still sceptical.

The issue of digital surveillance is popping up more and more in recent times, both in the news as well as in movies and television. The first time I really started to think about it was back in 2013 when the Edward Snowden scandal was taking place. Then when watching the film, ‘Snowden’, which was made about his experiences, it really began to sink in the notion of digital surveillance and how it can be exploited. Edward Snowden worked for both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) (Gurnow, 2014). While at the NSA he was exposed to highly classified information, which highlighted the volume of digital surveillance that was taking place on a global scale. Snowden copied and leaked this classified information to members of the press and was charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 as well as theft of government property, and has now taken asylum in Russia (Tarzie, 2017). Some of the leaks revealed that the NSA gained access to cameras within phone and computer devices long ago (Tarzie, 2017). Recognising the lengths that Snowden went to and the sacrifice he has made in order to publicise this information has to make you consider the severity of this issue.

You might think you are harmless and unworthy of government surveillance. However, it would appear as though the NSA along with other security services here in Australia have been storing the information they are collecting from our digital devices, both through webcams and microphones, as well as all of our online activity (Chayka, 2014), so that on the off chance we had some communications with a terrorist or posed some sort of risk to the nations security, they would have all the information they might need to both find and prosecute us (Sulmasy, 2013).

Often when digital surveillance is brought up and discussed, it usually results in people saying ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’ or ‘What’s the big deal?’. And don’t get me wrong there are a number of positive aspects of digital surveillance when used appropriately in regards to our security. However, when you consider the cameras and microphones in our computers, phones and sometimes even our televisions, not to mention the CCTV cameras that track our every move, it begins to sink in that privacy is becoming a thing of the past. And the fact that the government bodies are doing their best to cover up this unwarranted spying makes it even more concerning and suspicious. It’s also necessary to note that it’s not solely government bodies that have access to this information. Hackers are also able to get live footage of us through our webcams using a type of malware to essentially hijack computers (Furnell and Warren, 1999), which can have (and already has had) detrimental effects. All these factors combine to paint a somewhat concerning picture of the possibilities of digital surveillance and the potential eradication of our privacy.

Anonymous (https://flic.kr/p/cXYcho) by Ged Carroll (CC BY 2.0)

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Chayka, K. 2014. ‘The NSA Is Spying on Your Webcam Sex’, Time.com, 1-1.

Furnell, S. M. & Warren, M. J. 1999. ‘Computer hacking and cyber terrorism: the real threats in the new millennium?’ Computers & Security, 18, 28-34.

Gurnow, M. 2014. Edward Snowden Affair : Exposing the Politics and Media Behind the NSA Scandal, Indianapolis, Blue River Press.

Sulmasy, G . 2013, Why we need government surveillance, Cable News Network, retrieved 2 August 2017, <http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/10/opinion/sulmasy-nsa-snowden/index.html&gt;.

Tarzie 2017. ‘Edward Snowden, Frenemy of the State’, American Journal of Economics & Sociology, 76, 348-380.