Jeb Bladine: Watching us can be watching out for us
Documents hacked from CIA or National Security Agency systems, released this week by WikiLeaks, describe methods to spy on individuals through their smartphones, TV sets, modems and other electronic devices. Those revelations sent government officials into a frenzy of investigations, and media into a whirlwind examination of how to prevent such invasion of personal privacy.
In the middle of all that, I was reminded that some invasion of personal privacy can be useful – not the “we’re watching you” kind, but the “we’re watching out for you” approach. More on that below.
Spying techniques revealed this week, officials said, are used only overseas, not here at home. That assertion, however, was disregarded by those who believe the worst of our government spy agencies.
Multi-level alarms are going off: Were top-security systems hacked from the outside, or vulnerable to an agency mole? Even if we don’t use those spy techniques against our citizens, how about spies from other countries?
Tips abound for protecting yourself, from upgrading all devices to newer, more secure software systems to simply pulling the plug when devices are idle. But let’s face it, few people will even begin, much less maintain, such initiatives.
Meanwhile, here’s content of a real auto-email I received this week from one credit card company:
“We noticed (cable company) charged you $5 more than last month, so we want to make sure you know about it. If that’s right … there’s nothing you need to do. Think it’s a mistake? Sign in to look at the charge in more detail.” The note even included contact information for the cable company.
Turns out, I knew about the price increase, which was a new policy to charge extra for local channels. I might have worried about people spying on my personal expenditures, but I considered it a potentially helpful, auto-message to alert me to unusual spending that might represent a billing error or even a hacked credit card account.
It made me wonder what other auto-tips from financial accounts might be helpful. For example, how about receiving this message from the credit card company some year on February 10:
“We noticed that you purchased flowers at 5 p.m. on Feb. 14 last year. This is just a reminder that prior planning prevents poor performance on Valentine’s Day.”
Big Brother, it appears, may be watching. Let’s hope he’s a benign adviser, not a sinister spy.
Jeb Bladine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org of 503-687-1223.