Your seemingly innocuous posts on Facebook or Twitter may not be free from the surveillance programme of the United States’ National Security Agency. So vast is the web of information going through and monitored by the U.S. that there is a reason to worry, says Neville Roy Singham, founder and chairman of global software network ThoughtWorks.
“The chip of an Android phone or the finger print unlock system of the [new] iPhone, for instance, can be directly linked to the NSA,” said Mr. Singham on Monday while lecturing at Sophia College. Major Internet companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Paltalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple are involved in NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, which enables PRISM to directly collect data from the servers of these Internet companies.
Mr. Singham gave a talk on ‘Digital Inequality, Cyber Colonialism: The Rise of the Super Surveillance State’. The talk was organised by the Social Communications Department of the College, Press Club and Free Software Movement. Calling the mobile phone a “tracking device”, he spoke of a dystopia that the world’s citizens face despite being promised a cyber-utopian world 20 years ago with the PC and Internet revolutions.
“Now, 1.4 million Americans have top-secret clearance to access such data. These people are not elected but have complete control over information emitted by the rest of the world,” said Mr. Singham.
Hinting at complicity between the U.S. government and giant private technology organisations, he said that 10 companies controlled 75 per cent of page views on the Internet. “Never has there been a concentration of control this large,” he said.
Mr. Singham referred to Nelson Mandela’s arrest while he was President of South Africa in 1962. “The then Deputy Ambassador of the U.S. tricked him by calling him to the Embassy. When he left, he was arrested. The American government helped the apartheid government of South Africa in getting him arrested. But you never find this information on the first few pages on Google,” he said.
The NSA collected 97 billion pieces of information, of which 6 billion were from India alone. “Most of the data collected has very little to do with terrorism as is the justification of the NSA programme,” he said. The Hindu, in its Monday edition, had written that India stood fifth in the overall list of countries spied on by the NSA’s programmes. Mr. Singham said he was disappointed with the Indian government for denying shelter to whistle-blower Edward Snowden, and with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid for saying that India was not “an open house for asylum seekers”.
He also urged citizens to join the Free Software Movement in India.
He said that one needed to rethink the idea of the current-day heroes. “Edward Snowden, who is in exile, is a hero. Filmmaker Laura Poitras, who is helping Snowden expose the NSA, is a hero. Private Manning, who is facing 35 years in prison and is being tortured for exposing documents, is a hero. Aaron Swartz, who copied a link of public documents but committed suicide for fear of being in American prison, is a hero.”