As the full extent of the latest revelations by WikiLeaks sinks in, it once again reinforces a new normal for our world. Several lessons are in order from the cache of highly sensitive secret documents about the CIA’s technical capabilities that have been leaked.
First, the stark reality that no digital device, conversation or memory today is safe from the prying eyes of a spying agency or intruding hackers. The vulnerability of internet-connected devices is in sharp contrast to the rapid advances made in digital technology around the world and the real-time distribution of information that keeps us engrossed throughout the clock. While any one acting within legal boundaries need not worry about potential snooping by a government agency, it does raise disturbing questions about the privacy of information and personal activities for the average consumer. Similarly, for governments, getting unbridled access to someone’s electronic devices could be justified as vital if the circumstances demand it — whether to prevent a possible terror attack or to carry out a drone strike. But what would be worrying is the abuse of such technology and vast mines of data, whether by rogue elements or governments — which is why public safeguards are necessary to prevent any misuse of such unchecked oversight.
Second, simply changing passwords on digital devices might not be adequate as technology gets more sophisticated. Whether it’s a smart refrigerator, programmed lights, a talking TV or the innocuous baby monitor, every minute of our daily existence leaves digital footprints — and it’s all too easy to find them for those who seek. An added concern is the growing apathy and fatigue towards such shocking revelations, since most people have come to accept such intrusion as the inevitable by-product of a digital era. At a political level, the revelations will continue to damage intelligence communities around the world, while highlighting their overarching reach. For businesses, the cost of disruption due to a data breach or hacking are already enormous — and will only continue to climb. For both individuals and conglomerates, the latest leaks should therefore be a time for introspection of our digital priorities and building robust tools to prevent such security risks.