Espionage in a Post-Privacy Society

Photo Credit: ShutterstockWe will soon have to live in a world with no such thing as privacy and no such thing as secrecy, says Richard Aldrich, speaking at PINC 15 in Amsterdam. “We will be living in a transparent society, it will be a bit like living in a nudist colony.”

Aldrich is a historian specialising in espionage and has recently published a book about GCHQ, but it is the future of espionage that he is interested in right now. We’re used to the idea that secret intelligence agencies spy on us, but over the last ten years the big intelligence gatherers have become airlines, banks, internet providers and Tesco — all of which have more information about us than GCHQ and the NSA put together.

“These organisations are becoming cleverer and cleverer. Cleverer than the CIA; cleverer than the KGB.” By studying everything he has bought over the last five years, a company could predict with about 90 percent accuracy how Aldrich will vote in the upcoming European elections — something he claims he doesn’t even know himself. He claims he has about 11 percent of his supposedly secret vote left.

Citizens too though are increasingly becoming intelligence gatherers. By studying the reaction of the blogosphere to the Boston Marathon bombings — which led to a mob forming outside the house of someone wrongly identified as the bomber from crowdsourced photos posted on Reddit– we can understand how dangerous this can be. “Espionage is even scarier when it’s controlled by you guys,” Aldrich tells the audience.

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