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After Edward Snowden released some of the most significant national security leaks ever, we've been fed a constant stream of sickening revelations. Snowden's message has mostly been listened to, and the year culminated with him even getting a spot on prime time TV to tell us that “a child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all.” But it's not just the NSA's unregulated carpet bombing of civil liberties that you need to worry about. While we'll apparently hear more from Snowden in the new year, a new barrage of threats to privacy are also likely to take place. These are the privacy threats of the near future.
Initially funded in 2012, FirstNet emerged as a “key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.” It's a project that seeks to create a single broadband network over the entirety of the United States for use by first responders, be they paramedics, fire-fighters or law enforcement. At the moment, there are fewer than a dozen tests of FirstNet taking place in states including California, North Carolina, New Mexico, Colorado, Mississippi and New Jersey, and the project does have some positive applications. One example is that after 'tagging' a disaster victim with a small device, their vital signs can be monitored remotely from a control centre, allowing medical staff to more efficiently prioritise those who most need treatment.
We are already well aware of the kind of back doors and zero-day exploits of commercial products that the NSA makes use of. From iPhones to Microsoft Windows, if something isn't open source and thus open to scrutiny from the wider expert community, no one can be sure of quite how secure it is.
Worryingly, back doors have already been discovered in ageing medical tech. Security researcher Barnaby Jack, for instance, this year developed a method for wirelessly hacking into pacemakers, sending the device into a high voltage overload and its host into a fatal spasm.
With this in mind, and the possibility of having access to data describing or even controlling your bodily functions compromised, the rise of bionic augmentations may be accompanied by the ultimate invasion of privacy, as soon as commercial companies decide to monetize the movement.
In the last days of 2013, Jacob Applebaum at the Chaos Computer Club conference described some truly phenomenal pieces of surveillance technology being used by the NSA's elite hacking force: a device used in black bag attacks that can attack a computer when placed within 8 miles of its target, USB cables with hidden chips that allow network access, and—something that is beyond even the most morbid dystopian nightmare—a piece of kit that beams radiation at people and the computers around them, providing “the means to collect signals that otherwise would not be collectable, or would be extremely difficult to collect and process.”
Groups such as Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union are enjoying bigger platforms than ever before, helping them spread the message that privacy is something worth preserving.
While political reform is taking place in Europe, the continent may become the epicentre for the business of privacy too. As Silicon Valley companies are consistently shown to be unreliable or conspirators with US surveillance programmes, users in search of secure communications are looking to European companies. Vikram Kumar, CEO of tech company MEGA, predicted this: “I think there’s a business opportunity for companies to be based in Western Europe, if they want to provide reassurance for their customers around privacy.”
But it's not just the NSA's unregulated carpet bombing of civil liberties that you need to worry about. While we'll apparently hear more from Snowden in the new year, a new barrage of threats to privacy are also likely to take place. These are the privacy threats of the near future.
As I have said before much of this is generational and I don't see anything to worry about-the loss of civil liberties. They know it all anyway so why worry. A man just entering into the business world at 25 is, without a doubt, more concerned about privacy than men that have left middle age behind.