FutureFive NZ - Government web surveillance: Scarier than you may think


Government web surveillance: Scarier than you may think

According to an Oxford study from 2016, surveillance states promote and breed fear and conformity, and forget about free expression. It has been four years since Edward Snowden’s revelations about the state of global mass surveillance, led by the notorious NSA in America. Also in coordination with the NSA are intelligence agencies from the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

The Council of Europe has announced that 28 out of 47 member states provide effectively no protection for journalists against violence and threats stemming from the content of their stories. This inevitably leads to self-censorship amongst journalists from the 47 Council of Europe member states. According to the study:

  • More than half of the journalists surveyed reported being subjected to intimidation by government
  •  Four out of ten reported being threatened with physical violence.
  • One in four said they had been belittled and humiliated by their management
  • More than one in five had been arrested, investigated, threatened with prosecution or actually prosecuted.

The eye-opening results mean that journalists have to actively limit their work in order to maintain safety. Over 30% of the journalists said they had toned down the content of sensitive stories, with 15% giving up and completely abandoning such stories. Just as concerning, one in five journalists were forced to manipulate their reporting to suit the political and professional interests of their companies.

In February, New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager had his home raided by police, in a move that was symptomatic of the increasingly negative attitude towards journalists and whistleblowers by government organisations. Hager warned other journalists following the raid.

“If you're meeting a source, you don't ring them, you don't text them, you don't email them and you don't take your phone. That's pretty simple,” he says.

“If you contact the source by phone, you're a bloody idiot these days.”

Hager says that all journalists should use encryption on their computers.

“Its not James Bond stuff anymore,” he says.

Self-censorship is widespread amongst journalists and social media users alike. Many people now resort to using VPNs (Virtual private nerworks) to protect themselves online. VPNs hide the IP address of the user. Marty Kamden, CMO of NordVPN believes that VPNs are necessary for protecting our freedom of expression.

“Online surveillance by government and data collection by ISPs in many countries result in self-censorship online that brings about the biggest threat to online freedom and free speech. Therefore, we see a steady rise of people using VPNs around the globe,” he says.

“When governments pass strict surveillance laws, such as the Investigatory Powers Bill in the UK, or give ISPs the right to collect and sell user data without permission, as in the U.S., we see sharp spikes in user inquiries.

“People are starting to realize that they need to take action to protect their online privacy, and a VPN is the best tool for that.”

When online freedom of speech is denied, it can allow a vocal minority to control what is read by certain groups. VPNs are fast becoming a necessity to protect online freedom in the face of rising online surveillance by governments and data collection by internet service providers.

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