Over the years we have watched the erosion of privacy in cyberspace which appears to have accelerated exponentially of late. Virtually all communications in cyberspace and beyond are now accessible by many governments and those who work in them which sadly include the likes of the law enforcement officer referred to in the article above this one under the heading “Assume nothing”.
Most countries adopt similar limited approaches to electronic communications and simply try to store all communications emanating from or being transmitted to residents in their own countries such as emails and texts but it doesn’t necessarily stop there. Some try to apply this to all telephonic communications and/or neighbouring territories. Many seemingly unsophisticated countries rely on cyberspace savvy countries such as China to install and manage their intelligence gathering capabilities which should never be underestimated. Some ask friendly countries to do it for them to circumnavigate their own laws.
However, several countries (over half a dozen) try to apply these intelligence gathering
strategies on a global basis whereas most countries limit their extra-territorial international intelligence gathering in cyberspace to key word interception relating to matters affecting their jurisdictions or search for and join in feeding frenzies in cyberspace by other governments’ agencies.
So next time you communicate with someone electronically in any way but particularly by email or text remember that it will almost certainly have been stored in several locations by those you didn’t intend to see your communiqué and if you encrypt the message it is more likely to be read than simply stored! Furthermore if you ever wanted to get it back you may find that was harder than you can imagine as it might have been stored in space via a satellite.
The problems with all this start when criminals infiltrate governmental agencies or their databases or corrupt officials peep at what has been stored and sell on information. So if you think you are at risk from exposure by the likes of Wikileaks, in reality that may be of much less concern than these issues that don’t grab the headlines. For example, you may be corresponding by email with your Counsel about the merits of an ongoing high value legal prosecution blissfully unaware that your emails may be being sold to the defendants.
The problems don’t end there and even if you have the best firewalls in the world in place they are only as good as the integrity of those inside your kingdom; no matter what size your kingdom is you will have confidential information in there. As the UK and USA cyber-police discovered in 2012 there is no room for complacency even in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean as their discussions on a conference call were hacked into by those connected to the persons whose crimes they were discussing.
Similar considerations apply to leaving messages on mobile phones as recent phone hacking scandals have brought to light – indeed, the industry for providing security over mobile phone communications is in its infancy as the media and hackers have proven when, for example, VIPs are perpetually surprised that the Paparazzi always seem to know where they are or that their incoming texts have been read before they open them.
Every form of written electronic communication is stored somewhere even if you destroy the computer or mobile phone it originated from. Thus keeping something truly secret is almost impossible nowadays – there is always a route whereby secrets can out which is always worth remembering.
This article was first published on 17th February 2012.