The story of the boy who cries wolf is a timeless tale; while it is typically applied when instructing children on the importance of asking for help or accusing someone (likely an older brother) of some heinous crime against them, it is equally applicable in today’s overly sensationalized world. Last week, the media organization Wikileaks released thousands of files and documents detailing the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) hacking and spying abilities through everyday items like Samsung Smart TVs, iPhones, Android phones and computers of every make and model imaginable. The hacking tools were found to have been created or purchased by the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence.
Who cares? The government already reads all of our texts, emails and tweets anyways, in addition to being able to listen to all of our phone calls. This revelation should not really surprise anyone. Even if they have the capabilities to look into every aspect of our technological lives, if I have nothing to hide then I will not have anything to fear, right?
The Vault 7 release is much more abstract in its importance in this regard. While, like the Snowden documents of 2012 fame, it did in fact give specific examples of programs and hacks that are used to spy on both Americans and non- Americans, one of the more important revelations came in how this program was overseen by the executive branch of the government.
The short of it is that it wasn’t; the ability to effectively monitor what the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence was signed away under the Obama administration, allowing the activities of the CIA’s hackers to go on without a second thought from the more public face of the executive branch. Without the ability to effectively monitor how and where these cyber tools, or weapons depending on what side you are on, are used, the government puts itself at risk for being held accountable for a shadowy agencies actions in a faraway land.
But that is the government’s job, why should I bother to make them enforce their own laws upon themselves you may ask? Initially, one would almost rather that our nation’s top spy agency have access to the most powerful hacking and spying tools the world has to offer, but after the Vault 7 documents detailed how these tools were handled that initial assessment might just change. The CIA, according to the Wikileaks press release that accompanied the released documents, did not classify the weapons and tools it possess’s. Due to a U.S. law prohibiting the transfer of classified document over the internet, the primary method of getting these tools to agents and officers in the field, the Agency did not classify the programs. Instead, they would house the programs on the internet, albeit well hidden and protect, but nevertheless unclassified unlike any military weapon or defense system would be. This is another reason to cause alarm, for if the programs were available over the internet without classification, theoretically anyone with the capabilities to find them could use and possess them to possibly use against the very people who created them in the first place.
Regardless of the original or current intent, the power to observe, whether it be through the analyzing of texts and emails or the recording of phone calls or a conversation because you are simply near a cell phone or computer, is a powerful ability to possess. In the age of fake news and increasingly wild technological abilities, this power must be overseen and limited in its use. Although citizens should be able to trust their government to do the right thing, confidence in government is not high.