Those suffering from paranoia often have the sensation that someone is watching them at all times… but even for those who aren’t afflicted, nowadays everyone who has ever accessed the Internet might have good reason to feel the same way.
If this idea sounds like too much of a fantasy, one needs only to check out the recently revealed list of keywords that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses to monitor websites and social networks.
It was published last Saturday by British newspaper The Daily Mail. The newspaper stated that Homeland Security had been forced to make this document public upon the request of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public organization.
The list, consisting of hundreds of words and phrases, is impressive. One could hardly have thought that the use of “Mexico” or “China” in a Facebook post would be noticed by special programs.
Almost all Middle Eastern states are noted in the list: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, as well as North Korea and Colombia. The principles of words and terms of selection is quite clear: the list is divided into categories: “internal security”; “nuclear safety”; “public health and bird flu”; “infrastructure security”; and “terrorism” among others.
Meanwhile, the presence of such key phrases and words as “dirty bomb”, “hostages”, “sarin”, “Jihad”, “Al-Qaeda” in the list is quite understandable. However, next to them is the everyday lexicon of a regular peaceful Internet inhabitant like “cloud”, “snow”, “pork”, “chemical”, “bridge”, and “virus”.
The author of a popular post in Europe about a Smart car, or anyone unlucky enough to mention in vain the story of Cain and Abel can also find themselves under close surveillance. It is worth noting that the phrase “social network” itself is being monitored too. Nowadays, everyone who uses the World Wide Web is closely connected with this term.
Human rights defenders from the Electronic Privacy Information Center believe that the list contains too many words that have different meanings, and this threatens the safeguards given by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which proclaim the freedom of speech.
Homeland Security has agreed with the criticism to some extent. According to its press secretary Matthew Chandler, it is necessary to clarify algorithms of the search programs’ use. The high-ranking official of the DHS in an interview with an online edition stated that activity in the Internet monitoring sphere is in its initial stages and is aimed at preventing terrorism and natural disaster control.
Yet at the same time he rejected suspicions that the department is using its resources in order to control dissent. However, judging by the activity of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, not everyone agrees with him.
At the same time, monitoring of the Internet and social networks would have been a difficult task without the participation of the leaders of technologies. In connection to this, Forbes wrote that it is possible the DHS had some kind of agreement with such companies as Google, Facebook, Twitter and others which allowed it to get access to certain sections of software and “sift” through the Internet.
Meanwhile, some of the largest companies in the world have a giant amount of information about the users of their products. Last year a Wall Street Journal investigation was made public, according to which Google and Apple collected information about the whereabouts of their clients not only by means of mobile gadgets, but also through their personal computers.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple stores the data concerning the users’ movements via their Macintosh computers connected via Wi-Fi. Google, meanwhile, does the same through a PC via the Google Chrome Internet browser. The newspaper noted that both companies declared that storage of these data was strictly confidential and “does not pursue any hidden purposes.”
Regardless, this still means that you are being watched after all.
It is reminiscent of the “Big Brother” described in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” written back in 1949. Only one question remains: to what extent – from a geographical point of view – are the Big Brother’s capacities used?
Last week US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that government specialists had successfully hacked an Al-Qaeda website in Yemen and placed their own information there. Even though it was the first recognition of the US conducting cyber-operations, other aspects are just as important, i.e. the global reach of this form of web monitoring, which recognizes neither frontiers nor language barriers.