When it comes to Internet security, we are all extremely aware of the fact that someone might be taking our data and using it. This has been one of the big controversy’s at Facebook over the last 6 months, but should we be worried about other things? I find it interesting that this organizations still don’t see how important it is to protect the privacy of their users. Why do I think this? There are still companies interested in selling surveillance tools to governments that could easily abuse them. Intercept claims to have leaked documents that suggest Circinus had planned to sell social media surveillance tools to governments known for suppressing free speech. Who is Circinus? A defense contractor run by a Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy.
Circinus’ tools harvest sites like Facebook and Twitter in a bid to find and identify “detractors” (people who don’t obey political norms). This particular software only sifts through public data, it’s certain information that could be used to punish people who are seen to be detractors. But is this ok? Circinus says that they’re not going to wash their hands of responsibility the moment that it closes a deal. In a pitch to Cyprus (the country), the contractor advertised the ongoing involvement of a US-based team that would hide Cyprus’ use of the surveillance program. If anyone got nosy, they’d see the activity coming from the States.
Again, I ask – is this ok? Based on what I’m seeing, I don’t think it is. Essentially, the government would purchase a tool that would allow it to look at people’s Facebook or Twitter data to identify people who are not in-line with the rest of the country, politically. I have so many questions, but the big ones that come to mind are – to what end? And what other information could this be used to obtain? What we don’t know is – how many governments received presentations and how many took them up on this offer. The New York Times reported that Broidy had been using his Trump connections to pitch government clients.
It’s very coincidental that Trump is somehow involved in this, isn’t it? I mean, think of the kind of intel that he could get from this software. And it’s possible that he already is. I mean, we know how he was involved in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, so why would this be any different? When it comes to protecting your privacy, the only what to do it (it seems) is to not be online at all. And how feasible is that?
I think what we should be concerned about is the fact that this is the company’s stated focus. Which means we don’t have a good picture of what they’re willing to do beyond this. It’s unclear if they will do anything to stop a government from targeting its own citizens. It seems like they are enabling this behavior, so to say that they would protect citizens seems like a stretch. Maybe the worst part is that there doesn’t appear to be any kind of rules or laws against selling surveillance tools to countries with some seriously flawed human rights track records. What is this world coming to? Overall, I think we all need to continue to be vigilant, but I’m not sure we can protect ourselves.