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BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU – George Orwell’s 1984 gives a chilling picture of how technol­ogy could be used by a dictator to control millions. 

But the tools available today have advanced far beyond what Orwell saw.  Most governments of larger nations are using a wide range of digital tools to secretly monitor people on a very large scale.  

Tomorrow’s tools will take this to an entirely new level including instantaneous, accurate face recognition from fixed video cameras in public places, through to recognition by mobile cameras worn by police or undercover agents.  

Astonishing growth in global surveillance

China will lead the way in face recognition algorithms, which will then be used globally.

Security agencies have never had so many different and easy ways to invade privacy and spy on every citizen.

Expect rapid scaling up of government budgets in most developed nations for national surveillance using publicly available data, commercial data, images from video surveillance, legally and semi-legally or illegally intercepted data.

Cyber-espionage will become very confusing - spies working for multiple masters

Cyber-espionage will become a crowded world with constant risks that experts are working for more than one master.

You should expect intelligence agencies in most developed countries to have complete remote access to any computer or phone they wish, able to listen using built-in microphones even when devices are ‘not in use’, to watch using built-in cameras, and to monitor every screen, every keystroke.

The implications of all this for the future of freedom and democracy will be very profound and deeply disturbing.  These are the dream tools for any dictatorship which aims to identify, isolate and wipe out dissenters.

Secret back doors into every device

As we know from recent leaks by whistleblowers, all computer and mobile phone operating systems have become targets for the CIA, MI5, Chinese and Russian governments and so on, with the aim of being able to control devices or entire systems belonging to private individuals or companies or other governments, read files, intercept passwords, turn on built-in cameras and microphones remotely.  

That is why Chinese companies like Huawei will continue to come under close scrutiny over major contracts to supply other nations – with worries that such IT systems may have been compromised by their host nation.

Expect further revelations to show that secret ‘back doors’ were successfully coded long ago into most versions of Windows, Mac, Android, and so on, including back doors into encryption and security companies like Symantec, without any knowledge of the companies concerned.

As a result, we can also expect growing numbers of worried consumers, living under oppressive regimes, to turn off all their devices whenever they wish to be ‘alone’.  

Smartphones likely to be tracking you even when turned off

But that will not be enough to escape. Safer to wrap a phone in silver foil, or put it in a bucket of water, or leave it at a different location altogether.

For example, even when iPhones are turned off, they continue to log all your geo-tracking data as usual. And even when the battery dies, iPhone Apps can go on measuring the number of steps you have taken, and use other clues, to help plot your movements from your last known position.

But these are just official Apple system design features. What about secret services code?  

Companies like Google have been criticised for handing over security keys to government agencies to make spying easier.

Many IT and phone companies are hitting back by developing systems that are so secure that they cannot decode customer data even when ordered to by secret service agents, in large part to help restore trust by customers.

Apple and Google have already begun this process, creating security worries that newer smartphones could be used by terrorist groups to evade surveillance. However, some media interviews about these ‘security worries’ are no doubt a smokescreen by intelligence services, who do not want criminals or terrorists or other security agencies to realise that they are right inside all these new systems as well.  

How governments will break security measures by global data companies

The trouble is that such ultra-secure innovations are easily banned by governments – and will be.  

For example, a nation can announce that no cloud provider or mobile phone manufacturer can sell IT services or handsets in that nation without back door keys so that police or secret services can instantly access all private data, whenever they feel the need.

Australia took this path in 2019. The days of private, encrypted data are already numbered, because many governments will argue that guaranteeing your own privacy means dangerous criminals can also hide from sight.

Low level protests against state interference

Many future “techies” will continue to innovate as a matter of principle, as a silent protest against state interference, exploiting little gaps in government surveillance, inventing clever ways to beat the system, and offering them to groups of friends - but governments will relentlessly hunt them down.

And with huge improvements in face recognition, expect many people to develop ways to try to deceive the all-present cameras, ranging from 3D printed face masks to hoods, makeup and other techniqes.

So how will terror cells and criminals communicate in future? Or people who are just obsessed with their own privacy?  

Expect many new generations of techniques and online tools (many developed and launched covertly by security agencies themselves, masquerading as entrepreneurs wishing to help people stay private).

Every meeting and conversation recorded

On top of all this, individual Do-It-Yourself spying has never been easier – and will become even more so.

For example via wireless devices hidden in standard power adapters, or pens, or ornaments, or concealed micro-cameras, each able to transmit over 1000 metres to a base station which then transmits instantly online, or using Apps installed secretly onto anyone else’s phone, which can take just a few seconds, or using a drone equipped with a video camera.

All business leaders should assume that every meeting may be recorded, or is being transmitted live to a wider audience – using just a voice memo on a smartphone concealed in a jacket pocket, or just an open voice call, set to hands-free, slipped into a pocket.

Doctors, nurses and home carers are already discovering that their careless habits may end up immortalised in YouTube videos.

The same applies in every other kind of workplace. And then there is secret tracking of family, friends, competitors or enemies – made so much easier by automatic trace facilities built into every mobile device, and wide availability of spying Apps.

So take care how you behave and what you say - always assume you are on record in meetings - even more so in Video calls where others you cannot see may even be in the same room.

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