Living in a World Bereft of Privacy

First Pub­lished by Con​sor​ti​um​news​.com.

A few days ago I first received a men­acing mes­sage from someone call­ing her­self Susana Per­itz, telling me that “she” had hacked my email, planted mal­ware on my com­puter, and had then filmed me get­ting my jol­lies while watch­ing “inter­est­ing” porn online. Her email had caught my atten­tion because it had writ­ten in the sub­ject line a very old pass­word, attached to a very old email address I had not used for over a dec­ade, and the mal­ware must have been planted on a defunct com­puter.

Put­ting aside the fact that I am far more con­cerned about GCHQ or the NSA hack­ing my com­puter (as should we all be), this did rather amuse me.

Appar­ently, I must pay this “Susana” $1000 via Bit­coin or, shock, have my alleged pleas­ures shared with my acquaint­ances. And just last night I received anoth­er cour­teous request for cash from someone call­ing them­selves Jil­l­ie Abdulrazak, but the price has now inflated to $3000.

Why am I not con­cerned? Well, I can safely say — hand on heart — that I have nev­er watched online porn. But this got me think­ing about how or why I could have been singled out for this mark of a blackmailer’s esteem, and that brings me on to some rather dark thoughts.

It is per­fectly pos­sible that a rare, unguarded moment of long-dis­tance online love might have been cap­tured (but by whom?). That would prob­ably be over a dec­ade ago and would cer­tainly have been using the old email account which was attached to the par­tic­u­lar pass­word at the time.

How­ever, even those memor­ies have been denied me – I dis­tinctly remem­ber that I have been too para­noid for too long and have always covered the built-in com­puter cam­era lens. Any­thing that could pos­sibly have been recor­ded could only be audio – a saucy phone call at most. There can be no video of my young­er self, alas.

I have had good reas­on to be para­noid. In the late 1990s I sup­por­ted my former part­ner and fel­low MI5 intel­li­gence officer, Dav­id Shalyer, in his whis­tleblower exploits to expose the crimes and incom­pet­ence of the UK spy agen­cies at the time.

This res­ul­ted in us lit­er­ally going on the run across Europe, liv­ing in hid­ing for a year in la France pro­fonde, and anoth­er two years in exile in Par­is before he vol­un­tar­ily returned to the UK in 2000 to face the music and inev­it­ably, under the terms of the UK’ dra­coni­an 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act, being sent to pris­on for expos­ing the crimes of Brit­ish spies.From those years, know­ing what we knew about the spies’ cap­ab­il­it­ies even then, the sense of being always poten­tially watched has nev­er rubbed off.

So, know­ing abso­lutely that I have nev­er watched any online porn and that I always keep my com­puter cam­era lens covered, “Susana” and “Jil­l­ie” can go whistle. You have tried to shake down the wrong para­noid ex-MI5 whis­tleblower, darlings. And my tech people are now hunt­ing you.

Any pos­sible audio could, I sup­pose, be spliced in some way to some dodgy video to make this the stuff of a blackmailer’s dreams. That, surely, will be easy to forens­ic­ate – and indeed I have oth­er friends who can do this, at world class level.

Altern­at­ively, the former love at the time could have recor­ded the audio for his own nefar­i­ous per­son­al usage for some neb­u­lous time in the future. And if that future is now, after he had shown him­self a long time ago to be chron­ic­ally dis­hon­est, why do this in 2018 when we have been sep­ar­ated for years?

Or indeed, he may have con­tin­ued to used the old email account him­self to watch vile mater­i­al – he cer­tainly had the pass­word back then and per­haps he uses it to dis­tance him­self from his own porn habit (fap­ware, as the geeks call it)? If that is the case, he is even less hon­our­able than I had con­sidered him to be.

Or per­haps this is some type of dark LoveInt oper­a­tion by the spooks, in some failed attempt to fright­en or embar­rass me?

But there is, of course, a big­ger, more polit­ic­al pic­ture.

Ever since I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for MI5, before going on the run with Dav­id Shayler dur­ing the whis­tleblow­ing years in the late 1990s, I have been pain­fully aware of the tech cap­ab­il­it­ies of the spies. Even back then we knew that com­puters could be cap­tured by adversar­ies and turned against you – key­stroke log­gers, remote record­ing via micro­phones, cam­er­as switched on to watch you, and many oth­er hor­rors.

The whis­tleblow­ing of Edward Snowden back in 2013 has con­firmed all this and more on an indus­tri­al, glob­al scale – we are all poten­tially at risk of this par­tic­u­lar inva­sion of our per­son­al pri­vacy. I have kept my com­puter and mobile cam­era lenses covered for all these years pre­cisely because of this threat.

One spe­cif­ic Snowden dis­clos­ure, which has received little MSM trac­tion, was a pro­gramme called OPTIC NERVE. This was a GCHQ pro­gramme (fun­ded by Amer­ic­an money) that allowed the spooks to inter­cept in real time video con­fer­en­cing calls. It turned out, hor­ror, that 10% of them were of a sala­cious nature, and the spooks were shocked!

I have spoken about pri­vacy and sur­veil­lance at con­fer­ences around the world and have many, many times had to debate the sup­pos­i­tion that “if you are doing noth­ing wrong, you have noth­ing to hide”.

How­ever, most people would like to keep their intim­ate rela­tion­ships private. In this era of work travel and long dis­tance rela­tion­ships, more of us might well have intim­ate con­ver­sa­tions and even video play via the inter­net. In an adult, con­sen­su­al and mutu­ally pleas­ur­able con­text, we are doing noth­ing wrong and we have noth­ing to hide, but we surely don’t want the spooks to be watch­ing us or listen­ing in, any more than we would want the crim­in­als cap­tur­ing images and try­ing to shake us down for money.

This low-level and ama­teur attempt at extor­tion is ris­ible. Unfor­tu­nately, the threat from our gov­ern­ments spy­ing on us all is not.

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