Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one. Benjamin Franklin
There has been a slow burning and ongoing furore this year since Edward Snowden began leaking information on the scale of US intelligence gathering. It has focused around a few high profile examples such as the tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, or the bugging of the phones of 60 million Spaniards. Its worth noting that the Patriot Act put through congress by the Bush administration gave the intelligence services sweeping powers to spy on American citizens with very little judicial oversight. Non-US citizens seem to have had no protection from NSA spying whatsoever. The initial reason given by politicians for increased surveillance by the intelligence agencies was as part of the “war on terrorism.” Similar arguments have been used in the United Kingdom and proponents will claim that hundreds of terrorist attacks have been thwarted as a result. This is not subject to independent review.
This is a period of digital dominance where human interactions leave digital footprints. We buy, sell, talk, network, share photos and videos in a virtual world. The online activity of any individual can be used to build a profile of their likes, dislikes, tastes and opinions. Location services on mobile phones can track your movements with accuracy.
Tesco’s have recently announced that they will begin using a face recognition camera in their petrol stations. The device scans your face to determine your age and gender and uses this information and your location to display adverts that might interest you. Facial recognition software is already widely available on the Internet that will allow you to search for a face that you have a photo of. Google’s recent ban of face recognition apps on google glass may well turn out to be entirely symbolic. So it is conceivable that filling up a tank of petrol at Tesco’s would give them your face, name, age, gender, address, car registration number, facebook page, bank details, names of friends and family, workplace and potentially much more. The latest iphone from Apple uses your thumbprint to unlock the screen. Added together, the data that can be collected on an individual without any relationship to concern about crime or terrorism would amount to a major invasion of privacy. Face recognition and the registering of biometric data such as finger prints, is another step in the gradual invasion of privacy that we are being trained to tolerate.
Trading data has become big business. Currently, most of this data is anonymised. For example, GPS is used to count the number of people passing through a certain street per hour, what their age range and genders are and whatever other data that is available to them. This data is not person specific but can then be used to inform commercial companies to maximise their presence in the most influential areas and target their marketing strategies more effectively. It would be easy to imagine a future where personalized messages would appear on your phone depending on your location, directing you to things that you “may be interested in.”
However, there is not a clear divide between the intelligence agencies and large private multinational companies. It was widely reported in June this year that there has been extensive cooperation between the private sector and the intelligence services. Household names such as Microsoft, Google and McAfee have worked with US federal agencies including the FBI, the NSA and the CIA. This information sharing gives US intelligence agencies the upper hand over ordinary people in their ability to exploit bugs in systems to their advantage.
What appears to be widespread collaboration between the US government and large US companies involving the data on potentially hundreds of millions of people around the world is disturbing. Even if you trusted these government agencies with highly intrusive data about yourself and your family, it would take a fool to believe that this data was secure or could not be shared with other interested parties including commercial companies that have been so helpful in the fight against “terrorism.”
Legislation passed in the name of a war on terror has directly resulted in the justification of the invasion of privacy of millions of people around the world, the vast majority of whom are not even remotely involved in terrorism. It has engendered a culture of information and data gathering that has become progressively more intrusive and pervasive as technology has advanced and there is no sign that this trend will cease. Couple this dominance over information with psychological profiling and a new generation for whom this is an entirely normal part of life and future governments will know more about people than they know about themselves.
This data control will become a form of crowd control. The technology is advancing so fast that even the most aggressive legislation on privacy would struggle to contain the continued collection and distribution of data. Advertising useful products seems harmless enough, but with more sophisticated profiling techniques behaviour could be influenced on a grand scale. The only defence currently would be the discerning intellect of the individual and resistance to propaganda!
Some might say that they trust the government, intelligence services and major corporations and financial institutions with this data, that there is nothing to fear from them. Even if this was the case, what about the government or financial institutions in 10 or 20 years time? How about this level of surveillance in the more brutal dictatorships of this world? They would surely point to the West and claim that there was no difference between them and in some ways, they would be right!
This type of surveillance will inevitably be used against the interests of the people in some way. We already live in highly manipulated societies with a press that try to tell us what to think, adverts to tell us what to buy and an entertainment industry that helps most people to be preoccupied with fantasy rather than the realities of life and this world. It will not get better.
Islam engenders a strong culture of privacy in the Shariah. It is forbidden for the state to spy on its citizens or for citizens to spy on each other. Regardless of the advance of human technology, it is only Allah (swt) who is truly All Seeing and All Knowing. Not only is he aware of what you do online, he is aware of your thoughts, speech and actions wherever you are in privacy or public. All of creation is His (swt) kingdom and our sustenance is the bounty that He (swt) has given us. There is no secret that can be kept from Allah (swt) nor a place one can hide so that He (swt) cannot see you. This is the true meaning of Al-Basir (the All Seeing). The NSA does not see all and never will.
Furthermore, the knowledge of Allah (swt) is not used to influence your actions. He (swt) has revealed His (swt) guidance and you are free to follow it or not for a period of time (your life) that will definitely end. No amount of surveillance can ever make a state completely secure.
Allah (swt) says:
And if Allah touches you with harm, none can remove it but He, and if He touches you with good, then He is Able to do all things. And He is the Irresistible, above His servants, and He is the All-Wise, Well Acquainted with all things. (6:17-18)
So believers should never be afraid of the created things and put their trust in Allah (swt) alone. There is no need to transgress the limits of Allah (swt), such as spying on each other, to maintain security! Security, as with all other things are limited in Islam by the limits of the Shariah of Allah (swt).
Increasingly Western populations are becoming enslaved to a capitalist system of their own design. Islam actually represents a true freedom. It is the freedom not to be coerced by other human beings and limit ones actions only by what your mind has come to rationally, which are Allah (swt) and His Messenger Muhammed (saw).