GAIL LETHBRIDGE: Spyware is scary, but we’ve made our lives an open book
Have you ever felt like Spidey sensed someone was watching you? Track your every move, read your text messages and emails, listen to your phone calls and look at the photos on your phone?
Sound a bit paranoid? Well, it’s not.
Welcome to the era of mercenary spyware. It can break into your cell phone and send everything on it to another source that wants to know what you’re doing, where you’re going, and who you’re talking to.
In official parlance, these technologies are known as “On-Device Investigative Tools” (ODIT), which sounds less heinous than mercenary spyware. I guess the naming convention depends on how these tools are used.
This week, the RCMP was called before the House of Commons Ethics and Privacy Committee to explain its use of this invasive spyware. It turns out the RCMP has deployed them in 32 investigations since 2017.
The police sometimes rely on them to catch the bad guys – criminals who use children for sex, terrorists, drug dealers and murderers.
The RCMP says these tools are not intended for mass surveillance operations and rarely receive approval for use. They are no different from conventional surveillance methods that have been deployed in police departments for years: things like listening devices or hidden cameras to monitor criminal behavior.
That might be an understatement. Experts describe this spyware as “wiretapping on steroids”. These are highly sophisticated software harpoons designed to infect your phone or computer and spread the data elsewhere.
The zero-click capability of some of these tools is particularly shocking. This means they can access your phone or computer even if you don’t click on a bad link or connect to a leaky Wi-Fi network in a public place.
It’s very good when you want to catch criminals. But what about those digital spy tools that aren’t used for other purposes? And who gives approval for their use?
What if governments or police use them to monitor activists with programs they don’t like? And then there’s the specter of rogue dictators or terrorist groups getting their hands on these tools to hack into national intelligence data.
We don’t know where the developers sell their products. We also don’t know if developers steal code and use it for their own purposes. There is little or no regulation.
Privacy experts say this technology could seriously harm individuals, national security and democracies and should be more tightly controlled, so that law enforcement, governments and malicious actors cannot abuse this spyware.” extremely intrusive”.
If you believe that privacy is a fundamental human right, your human rights could indeed be violated by this spyware.
It is therefore important to obtain transparency and accountability on the use of these tools in order to protect privacy, but there is also an irony here.
As Canadians grit their pearls and wring their hands over the invasion of privacy, they should consider their own complicity in giving it up.
Every day, most of us voluntarily submit personal information to privately owned platforms: Facebook, Instagram and Amazon. We give these companies tons of data about our lives, our friends, our whereabouts, and our purchases.
These cute photos of your grandchild or family reunion are collected, compiled and used to create profiles which are stored in vast databases. They are sold to advertisers who target you based on information you provide for free.
This data is also used by political interests to target certain voters. Such interests could be “robot farms” in places like Russia or China that are motivated to harm Western democracies by fomenting rage and insurrection.
We should treasure our privacy, but I’m afraid that ship has sailed before. And no security settings on your phone will protect you from predatory intrusions.