The domination of social media in many countries has created a “turnkey totalitarian state” that makes the Stasi pale in comparison, claims Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
“The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen,” Assange warns in a December 7 interview with the UK Guardian.
The Wikileaker, who has spent the last six months holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to escape extradition to Sweden, says social media, used by many to update friends and family on mundane events, is being used by governments to collect information on its citizens.
“The last 10 years have seen a revolution in interception technology, where we have gone from tactical interception to strategic interception,” he explains. “Tactical interception is the one that we are all familiar with, where particular individuals become of interest to the state or its friends: activists, drug dealers, and so on. Their phones are intercepted, their email communication is intercepted, their friends are intercepted, and so on.
“We’ve gone from that situation to strategic interception, where everything flowing out of or into a country – and for some countries domestically as well – is intercepted and stored permanently. Permanently. It’s more efficient to take and store everything than it is to work out who you want to intercept.”
While “the penetration of the Stasi in East Germany is reported to be up to 10% of the population – one in 10 at some stage acted as informers – the penetration of Facebook in countries like Iceland is 88%, and those people are informing much more frequently and in much more detail than they ever were in the Stasi,” Assange contends. “And they’re not even getting paid to do it! They’re doing it because they feel they’ll be excluded from social opportunities otherwise.
“So we’re now in this unique position where we have all the ingredients for a turnkey totalitarian state.”
As the cost of technology halves every two years while the population doubles only every 20, “we’ve now reached this critical juncture where it is possible to intercept everyone – every SMS, every email, every mobile phone call – and store it and search it for a nominal fee by governmental standards,” Assange says. “A kit produced in South Africa can store and index all telecommunications traffic in and out of a medium-sized nation for $10m a year.”
A “powerful lobby” dedicated to keeping these facts in the dark, coupled with the legal and technological complexity of the issue, makes the vast majority of the public unaware of what is going on.
The only solution to preventing this from happening is for users of computers, cellphones, and other digital communication to use cryptography. By encrypting our online activity, agencies would theoretically be forced to spend billions on deciphering, making their spying operations less cost-effective.
“Cryptography is the essential building block of independence for organisations on the internet, just like armies are the essential building blocks of states, because otherwise one state just takes over another,” Assange concludes. “There is no other way for our intellectual life to gain proper independence from the security guards of the world, the people who control physical reality.”