'Most Intrusive Surveillance Regime in the West' Isn't Even the U.S., says Edward Snowden

Do you want the government knowing how often you watch porn?


By my read, #SnoopersCharter legitimizes mass surveillance. It is the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West.

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 4, 2015

Senior lecturer in computing at Liverpool John Moores University, Brett Lempereur is live-streaming websites he's visiting on the Internet in real time in an effort to show how invasive the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill will be, should it pass in the UK. It would require Internet service providers to keep records of every website a person visited for a maximum of 12 months. On top of that, police would not need a warrant to look at these records.

“I'm not sure if people get the scope of the 'snooper's charter' that is still on the table. So, I'll be using the extension in this repository to stream my web browsing metadata in real-time to anyone that cares to look at it for a while,” Lempereur wrote on GitHub.

Surveillance is an abstract concept when it's impossible to see what's being logged. I know getting my family members and friends to retrain their muscle memory from typing in Google to DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn't log your queries, or download Signal, an app that allows users to send encrypted texts and calls, is like pulling teeth. Why? They either don't think it matters or don't want to be inconvenienced.

Lempereur is letting everything show on his site, Ireacharound (a play on the NSA's search engine IREACH). He warns that some of the content on the site may be NSFW (not safe for work). But this isn't anything the government wouldn't be able to see if the Investigatory Powers Bill passes.

Lempereur believes that "[s]urveillance on this scale would have an impact on people's behaviour on the Internet," he added. But that's only if people acknowledge they're being watched.

"Their browsing habits and their personal preferences can be identified, for example how much pornography they have viewed. I have certainly been self-censoring what I have been viewing," he said in an interview with Wired. But he admitted that was partially because his web content is being openly published.

Lempereur believes that "[s]urveillance on this scale would have an impact on people's behaviour on the Internet," he added. But that's only if people acknowledge they're being watched.

When the threat of our actions becoming visible is obvious — when we know we're being watched — we tend to change our behavior. However, the government likely won't pin an all-seeing eye to your browser if this bill is passed. There will be no warning reading, “Your content will be logged,” before you enter each site. It's out of sight, out of mind — because the government doesn't want you to think about being watched. Just act natural.

But the Chrome browser extension Lempereur has developed displays an icon of UK Home Secretary Theresa May “sitting in your browser looking at what you're doing.” The extension is available on GitHub.

Brad Templeton argues that we're all a part of a surveillance apparatus that would even be beyond the imagination of George Orwell.

***

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Photo Credit: Liverpool John Moores University

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less