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Am I Being Watched?

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A long time ago, I had a stalker. He still pops up now and then. I like to think I can help others in the same situation.

Since writing the articles “How to Find Spy Devices in Your Home” and “I’m Being Watched: How to Deal with Stalkers and Spies,” I have received numerous comments and questions. I was surprised. I thought that the most common incidences of stalking and spying were done by individuals: spouses, ex-spouses, spurned lovers, and the odd case of industrial espionage.

However, I have to admit that this is not the case. The entity listening to, and possibly watching, you right now, is your own government, or agencies thereof.

The United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air. That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything—telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide.

— U.S. Senator Frank Church, 1975

In his book No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State, Glen Greenwald says even back in the mid-1970s, Frank Church discovered the FBI were routinely spying on half a million 'subversives', based only on their political views. Imagine what that number must be now.

Greenwald also points out that the ability to mass-monitor the population bestows immense power to those who carry it out. And, unless this power is checked by rigorous supervision and accountability, it is certain to be abused.

Edward Snowden’s Disclosures

Interviewer: “Why should people care about surveillance?”

Snowden: “Because even if you are not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year, consistently by orders of magnitude. You don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to fall under suspicion, even by a wrong (phone) call. And then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with. And attack you on that basis… and derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrong-doer.”

PRISM: The NSA's Data-Mining Program

You’ve probably all heard of PRISM, the NSA’s program to monitor and data-mine all communications by insisting on access to your ISP, Google, Apple, Microsoft/Skype, Yahoo, and all.

A chart prepared by the NSA, contained within the top-secret document obtained by the Guardian underscores the breadth of the data it is able to obtain: email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP (Skype, for example) chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more.”

Snowden also said, “We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians."

Yet certain individuals are regularly monitored much more closely even than that.

Watched and Recorded by NSA and U.S. Government

Predictably, the NSA and U.S. government are thrilled by the development and growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). Their capability for keeping an eye on each and every citizen is increasing exponentially.

And of course, this is by no means limited to the United States. Here’s some small print from Samsung’s Terms of Service relating to use of its smart TVs. The text next to it is from George Orwell’s 1984. See the similarities?


This spying capability is not limited to the obvious smart phones and interactive speakers such as Amazon Echo and TVs, but to any device that can connect to the internet. Light bulbs, fridges, cameras, etc., can all record and transmit your conversations. Even, chillingly, the new Barbie doll is able to report your data back to Mattel.

There is no longer any need for covert operatives to sit outside your home in a disguised electrician’s van. There’s no need to have bugs planted on your property. No need for a ‘neighbor’ to spy on you with binoculars and a dictaphone. Got a smart phone? They got you covered.

Snowden described the extent of the NSA's spying capabilities as "horrifying":

“We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place."

James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, addressing a Senate panel the annual assessment of threats, said:

“In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”

No warrant is required.

What Can You Do If You Suspect You're Being Spied On?

In a word: nothing. Once you’ve become a target for NSA surveillance, they aren’t going to stop it. Even if you are a small-town 70-year-old dressmaker who happened to talk to your sister about some horrific terror attack you saw on the news.

If you used certain phrases, certain keywords, you’re on the list. They know who you are, where you are, who you are talking to, and who you are in contact with via digital communications. They will have gone back over your internet and cell phone history. They will know more about you than you do yourself.

There’s no need for them to discount you, they can simply keep monitoring you by algorithm—they have all the storage capacity they need.

What About Other Spies and Stalkers?

The Internet of Things is an absolute playground for hackers and other creepy stalkers. For example, let’s say you have a coffee machine connected to your home network. Your home network is safe, right? Password is encrypted, you have firewalls and passwords galore. No one can get to you.

Yet all it takes is one savvy hacker who has an account on the same coffee machine network. By cracking the code used by an Android device, he is able to access your coffeemaker right from his desktop. And from there, well, your home internet is his oyster.

Sarah and Jay discovered that a hacker had taken over their baby monitor and was actually viewing and speaking to their toddler son, saying, “Wake up little boy, daddy’s looking for you.” Creepy, right? This was just one of many cases recently highlighted in the press.

In 2014, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) discovered a Russian website streaming footage from thousands of webcams, including baby monitors and other Wi-Fi enabled cameras.

How Can We Protect Ourselves From the Threat of Surveillance?

The problem is that many of us "ordinary users" simply accept the risks in order to get the convenience. I mean, I adore my Alexa. It’s so convenient to quickly get information I need, and to play a song that popped into my head. So we pay the price… and I’m not referring to the purchase price.

We accept that data is being sent, and we’re getting used to it. However, it’s not so comfortable to find out that some pedophile is watching, recording, talking to our child, and monitoring us as we move around their room. So take some precautions.

Do you really need a Wi-Fi connected baby monitor? Could you switch the Wi-Fi facility off when you’re in the home? Consider using a normal radio-controlled monitor—we all managed fine with those.

Check out the Terms of Service and security settings for every internet-connected device you own. Set the security settings to their highest, and turn devices off completely when not in use. Cover your laptop camera, and prevent your phone from broadcasting your location. You won’t be completely secure, but you can do your best to keep the creeps from invading your space.

Make sure all your connected hardware has the latest updates. Healthline has some good suggestions for keeping your IoT secure.

How to Live In a Surveillance Society

If you want to remain part of mainstream society, you will simply have to accept that being watched is part of living today.

Unless the population of America, and indeed, the world, collectively objects wholesale and insists on their rights under the Fourth Amendment are upheld, nothing is going to change, other than surveillance becoming even more routine and commonplace. The only alternative is to go off-grid, and not many of us even want, or could do that.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Bev G