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Dan Harris asks Bristol students how they feel about being watched…

After the release of what was first part of the largest information leak in the history of the CIA, on Tuesday the 7th of march, 8,761 documents show how the CIA’s Centre of Cyber Intelligence create programs that take, hack and listen in on ‘a wide range of U.S. and European company products, include Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs’, according to WikiLeaks themselves.

This comes just days after the Trump Wiretapping scandal, in which he claims he was spied on during the 2016 Presidential Election Campaign.

‘The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.’The FBI is currently conducting an investigation to find the source of the leaks, in which theories abound from Russian Hackers to Talpiot Program Alumni. What is known is that this affects almost everyone on the planet, who at any time could become victims of such unwarranted violations of privacy.

Being aptly placed at the forefront of the integration of new technologies, students, who have now most probably lived all their life among such gadgets, could give a unique perspective on such mass surveillance and possibly a clue as to how the public would react in future to such evidence.

One student answered ‘If I believed in the government and what they were doing was right, I would be all up for secrecy and such.’ They later followed with ‘I don’t trust the US Government to use their spy services for good.’ Their comments follow a dogged history of the CIA and the National Security Council right from the moment when President Truman signed the US National Security Act of 1947.

The CIA themselves do not wish to comment on the investigation but stressed that ‘Such disclosures not only jeopardize U.S. personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm.’ This response would have the public question whether it was viable to scrutinise covert operations in lieu of security.

In a recent Epigram article, Ed Fernyhough’s piece ‘Millennials must be wary of technology dependency’ he goes on to explain that ‘our relationship with technology could damage our social relationships, capacity for patience and ultimate ambitions.’ It is precisely this relationship that is being exploited by security services the world over.

Those students who are interested in this discussion take a similar view, one when approached said ‘the overuse of computers and phones at the moment creates the perfect environment for spying’ and that ‘The collection of data is fundamental in order to create models that improve technology.’ Another point is made that ‘If one buys a smartphone they indirectly accept the fact that some of the data that they download through it will be saved in the cloud for future use.’ This use of this data would be for the intelligence agencies to decide.

The Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has stated that they are willing to work with technology companies to close the gaps identified by the thousands of CIA documents leaked this earlier this week.

One student commented on how ‘I believe there must always be oversight of intelligence agencies otherwise you have a body with huge funding and basically a blank check to do what they want.’ Another took the angle of data security and said that ‘I think they shouldn’t spy on us as much as they do and highly doubt these things are ever truly secure.’

Other students were to propose that ‘Complete secrecy is fundamentally impossible if you’re passing on information as you talk.’ And would later go on to say with regard to intelligence agencies that ‘The very aim of the game is deception, trusting an intelligence agency is a stupid thing to do.’

Related points can be made here also, ‘Once a single cyber ‘weapon’ is ‘loose’ it can spread around the world in seconds, to be used by rival states, cyber mafia and teenage hackers alike’ and ‘Cyber ‘weapons’ are in fact just computer programs which can be pirated like any other.’ Mr Assange noted that ‘There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons’.’

It is known that as of October 2014, the CIA was looking into infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks. To which WikiLeaks noted that ‘The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.’

Students taking into account the proximity between cyberspace actions and real world affects noted that ‘It can have both good and bad affects, the problem itself is not with technology but the people using it.’ Leading to another position of ‘We don’t really know what they (intelligence agencies) do; I don’t particularly feel comfortable with this kind of thing.’ Contrary to this position one student came forth to say ‘It doesn’t worry more than anything else, it is simply one more method.’

At this moment in time it would be impossible to have the discussion that the source wanted, but with plenty more information to be released and exact details to be divulged, one can be sure that the conversation will carry into the coming months.

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