Maybe Rockwell wasn't that crazy and we should all pay very close attention to his 1984 hit. Can we trust the powers at be? Are we really living private lives, or is there an authority out there that's watching our every move? As we let paranoia set in, we're going to explore the 10 insanely creepy ways that the government is keeping tabs on you.
If you thought anything up to this point on this list was terrifying, then this is going to scare you into living underground and off-the-grid. Webcams seem so innocent, the perfect means to communicate with those you love or partake in more titillating activities, but the FBI has the capability of turning that innocence completely upside down. Through spyware technology, the bureau is able to activate your webcam without setting off the recording light. Scary, right? Well, the worst part about this is that it's not just isolated to government spying. The spyware is frequently used by private hackers, who use it to spy mostly on unwilling women and gather video and photos to post on what's known as "slave forums." The FBI may use webcam hacking very sparingly, but they recommend you cover your webcam when not in use.
The NSA has a knack for shady surveillance methods. They just don't seem to have the resources necessary to keep any of them a complete secret. Revealed in July of 2013, Xkeyscore uses backend databases, servers, and specially created software that targets specific data and metadata already collected by the NSA utilizing other means. At least, that's what the agency reported. When queried by German broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk, well-known American whistleblower and former Central Intelligence Agency employee Edward Snowden claimed the system's abilities were a bit broader than that and had terrifying capabilities - like viewing browsing data. Through a series of fiber optic cabling, the NSA has collected tens of billions of records which is stored from anywhere between 3 to 45 days.
Now don't get this confused with a transparent polyhedron with two polygonal faces lying in parallel planes and with the other faces parallelograms used to refract or disperse a beam of light into a beautiful array of colors. PRISM is an alleged NSA surveillance program that filters information from companies like Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Apple, and Facebook, though when pressed in 2013 the internet giants were rather dismissive in their knowledge of such a program. According to the PRISM directive, these companies - along with AOL, Skype, and Yahoo! - had provided the NSA a back door to filter stored user data, file transfers, Social Networking details, video and voice chat, e-mails, and even photos to the invasive agency. According to varied reports, the $20 million program launched in 2007 with Microsoft as a target and continued to add providers up until 2012.
Cell Phone Tracking
We're all attached to our cell phones like they're a vital part of our bodies that we cannot live without. While it's a tool of communications and extensive knowledge for us, it has the inadvertent potential of being something far more sinister. We already know our phone records are up for grabs, but did you also know that phones produced by Apple and other Android developers track and store your location data? Sure, it doesn't directly imply that your phone is shooting this information off to the NSA and it can be used for location-sensitive advertising to your benefit, but the potential for a far more iniquitous use can always be there.
Is nothing sacred anymore? As we should have expected, with the advent of new household technologies like Samsung's smart refrigerator, comes the potential threat of government spying. According to former CIA Director David Patraeus, these internet-connected devices will change how "people of interest" are spied on. Using radio-frequency identification or embedded servers, these innocent appliances can be used as a surveillance tool, especially as hardware is keen on collecting and storing geo-location data. Wondering what devices you should keep an eye on? Essentially, if it connects to the internet, congratulations, you have yourself a future spy tool from the United States of America. If it happens to store any sort of data about you and the household, it's a potential treasure trove of information for federal agencies.
Skimming Phone Records
It's no secret that for quite some time the NSA has had access to personal phone records, citing a need to monitor potential threats and dubious communications. In June of 2013, Verizon Wireless was court ordered to provide the NSA with three month's worth of phone records for millions of its customers. Unlike with emails and text messaging, the records were not limited to international conversations. The government may be trying to point the finger at counter-terrorism to justify pulling phone records, but a 2014 analysis of 225 terrorism cases provided no proof that the NSA's collection of records has had much of an impact, if any. The 2013 collection wasn't even the first time phone records have been up for grabs. As far back as 2006, under the Bush administration, the NSA has had their hands in databases of AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth.
Intercepting International Messages
Think your emails and text messages being sent to your friend overseas are being read just by your friend? Your assumptions would be incorrect as the National Security Agency (NSA) has a tendency to do a little snooping around on messages sent to and received from foreigners. The mentality is that they're looking to pinpoint suspicious communications, but with the extremely wide parameters that the NSA uses to search these communications, it's more likely they're spending a good portion of their time reading about Aunt Susie's colonoscopy. Wondering how this is legal? (Well, of course you are!) Cross-border surveillance was authorized in 2008 with the FISA Amendment Acts, through which Congress approved the ability to snoop around on domestic soil sans warrant if the communication left the United States.
License Plate Cameras
During your lengthy drive to work is probably one of the last places you'd think the government would be able to track you … but track you they can! Through the use of license plate cameras, which are mounted on police cruisers driving along major roadways, or on other government vehicles, local law enforcement is collecting the data of thousands of drivers - just because they're on the road. The cameras are meant to assist in locating stolen vehicles or track down those involved in crimes, but they aren't programmed to just ignore every other license plate. That means law enforcement has a record of every license plate these cameras capture, including time and location. Though some departments are quick to delete the unneeded information, some hold onto it. According to David J. Roberts, the senior program manager for the Technology Center of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, holding onto the information provides "a rich and enduring data set for investigations down the line."
In October of 2011, the small town of Farmington Hills, Michigan received an unpleasant update to their street lights. Manufacturer Illuminating Concepts, with funding from federal sources, began a project of installing streetlights that would be able to monitor conversations and announce government warnings. While an emergency alert system has some merits, we can assume many are against turning streetlights into a means of monitoring street-level activities. One of the biggest concerns is that this sort of surveillance brings us one step closer to a police state, especially after the company pulled a promotional video from YouTube after it received a heap of negative publicity.
Discussion on the use of drones seems to go one of two ways: people are either wildly opposed to them or they're out at Best Buy purchasing their own flying machine. Here's a fun fact about drones that may sway the latter group: In 2013 former FBI director Robert Mueller stated that the United States government has been using surveillance drones. Though he claims the use of these mechanical spy-machines has been "very seldom" and in "particularized cases," one has to question exactly what "cases" are considered drone-worthy. There's also the issue that, following-up on his answers, Mueller claimed he did not know what happened to any images captured. As drones can be equipped with high-powered cameras and provide live video feeds, one can see the potential for privacy concerns in the coming years.