DO YOU do that thing where you cover your PIN number with your hand to keep safe your personal details when you go to the bank to withdraw some cash and weep at the ever-dwindling number that passes for a balance?
With the news coming out of the US, it appears that any privacy or secrecy you believe you’re entitled to may be a thing of the past.
If you’ve not heard then that’s probably because you don’t use a mobile or phone or go on the internet – in which case you can tut loudly at the naive foolishness of folk like me.
The American equivalent of MI5, the National Security Agency (NSA), has been outed as being the biggest phone hacker in the western world.
Under the terms of a top secret court order made in April, the Government agency has been able to collect huge amounts of data from mobile phone network provider Verizon about users’ calls, texts and seemingly location.
Under the terms of the blanket order, which does not discriminate between good, law-abiding people, regular criminals or those suspected of being involved in terrorist plots, the numbers of both ends on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls.
The contents of the call aren’t recorded. Thank God, President Obama won’t know what we need from the shop, what I’m planning for my tea and just how warm it’s been in Huddersfield. (If you’re reading Mr Obama then the answers were milk, gammon and 21 degrees.)
The request for the bulk collection of all Verizon domestic telephone records indicates the NSA is continuing some version of the data-mining program begun by the Bush administration in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack.
The NSA, as part of a program secretly authorised by former President Bush on October 4 2001, implemented a bulk collection program of tens of millions of domestic telephone, internet and email records.
‘So what?’ you cry, I’m not American, I don’t ring America and I didn’t even watch Cagney and Lacey when it was on.
Well, it appears that the NSA has gained access to the giants of Google, Facebook and Apple.
The NSA access to internet records is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats according to documents seen by the Guardian.
According to PRISM program material, it is run with the knowledge of the companies involved – however officials for the firms say they know nothing about it.
Some of the world’s largest web businesses and brands are claimed to be part of the PRISM program since introduction in 2007.
Giant Microsoft – which is currently running an advertising campaign with the slogan “Your privacy is our priority” – was reportedly the first, with collection beginning in December 2007.
Since then Yahoo, Google, Facebook, YouTube and Skype are all alleged to have been involved.
I can hear you thinking again, that what does it have to do with me?
I haven’t posted or viewed YouTube, I don’t write anything interesting on my emails and I certainly haven’t poked anyone on Facebook (it’s a virtual thing you used to be able to do on Facebook rather than anything involving a broom handle and brute force).
Well bear with me and I’ll let you know.
President Obama came to power on a wave of “change” rhetoric. America appeared to feel itself rejuvenated with a focus on improving domestic matters after George Bush Jnr’s tenure which had seen the power spend much time, money and blood on foreign soil.
But since the election campaign in 2008 and since his inauguration in 2009 President Obama has vowed to shut Guantanamo Bay. It’s still not shut and there are currently more than 100 people held there who have never been charged, tried or convicted of any crime.
For the first time since it became public that many of the prisoners in Guantanamo are now on hunger strike, Obama mentioned that he believed it could not continue to exist into the future – but gave no indication of how he was going to ensure that it closed.
It appears that no matter how cuddly or touchy-feely a politician (David “call me Dave” Cameron”) or how much new broomish they appear to be, there’s still the machinery of money, influence, history and vote getting to think about.
After revolutions, ‘liberations’, wars and more abroad we have a political class that is disassociated with domestic rights and wrongs, which in the interests of us all, it would claim, is interested in listening and monitoring those who would do us and the state wrong.
You may have nothing to hide, but does that mean you want someone looking over your shoulder?