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Is the CIA watching me?

Government surveillance of citizens is getting worse. Both democratic and authoritarian governments regularly watch us. But is there a government spy peeping through your webcam as you’re reading this blog post? Surveillance can be difficult to detect but there are ways to protect yourself. What are the signs of government spying and can you escape it?

Sibilė Šimkevičiūtė

Sibilė Šimkevičiūtė

Is the CIA watching me?

Signs that the government is spying on you

Is the government watching me? If you haven't done anything to get onto a CIA watchlist, chances are no one is actively listening to your conversations. But that doesn't mean your personal information isn't being collected in giant databases.

The Freedom on the Net report says that 89% of internet users are monitored on social media. A lot of their data is collected and analyzed through automated means for CIA mass surveillance.

Even though the collection of metadata may sound trivial, this is not necessarily the case. It can sometimes provide an even bigger image of a person's life than a specific personal conversation between two people. Here is the list of things making you more spyable.

Some risk factors include:

1. You have a Smart TV or other IoT device

Back in 2015, when Samsung’s new Smart TVs came out, the company warned its customers not to discuss personal or sensitive information near the device. According to the company, users' conversations may have been captured and sent to third parties.

In 2017, a WikiLeaks report described a Weeping Angel attack used by the CIA to turn Samsung TVs into the agency's bugs. The attack tricks the user into thinking the TV is off, while it actually operates as a microphone and sends sensitive conversations to CIA servers.

Luckily, according to the latest NordVPN research, most Americans have caught on to the risks of a home full of IoT devices. An overwhelming 9 in 10 believe that their IoT devices collect too much data on their respective users. The distrust of smart devices has reached a level where 50% of owners believe that their devices are listening in on their conversations unprompted.

2. Your webcam is on

It's relatively easy to hack your webcam, whether it's the government or a cybercriminal. The NSA's GUMFISH tool can direct an infected computer to take photos and record conversations through the webcam.

Back in 2008, Britain's surveillance agency GCHQ, helped by the NSA, also collected images from Yahoo web chats despite many users not even being government targets. Some of them contained sexually explicit communications.

3. Your phone records are up for grabs

While the government won't necessarily listen in on your phone calls without a warrant, they can access your phone records. Who you call, when, and for how long can paint a pretty accurate picture of your hobbies, work, and personal life.

4. Your phone or computer was hacked

Government agencies have enormous malware collections, zero-day exploits, and other bugs they can use to turn your phone into a spying device. The CIA has specialized branches dedicated to finding out how to crack iOS, Android, Microsoft, or macOS software.

5. You’re always close to a camera

Countries like the US and the UK are some of the most watched-over regions in the world. According to estimates, the UK has approximately one CCTV camera for every 11 citizens. So, every time you're in public, expect Big Brother to be watching you.

Why is the government watching you?

You don't necessarily have to become a government target to be a victim of mass surveillance. While the government argues that monitoring is necessary to uncover and prevent terrorism, files leaked by Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA was collecting information about regular citizens. Advocates say this data is useful for preventing crimes and terrorism, while critics say it is far more likely to be abused as a tool of oppression.

Every year, surveillance scandals are revealed. Whether from government operations or giant corporate entities, someone will try to spy on your online activity. That's why it's important to take a proactive response to the growing threats against your privacy. There are plenty of tools available to the public that can help. A VPN is one of those tools, and it's perfect for the job.

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Real signs of government surveillance

Surveillance whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, and William Binney are proof that citizen surveillance exists. Here are three real cases of government surveillance:

    1. The NSA file leak – Edward Snowden, 2013
    2. Edward Snowden’s revelations were so shattering that other whistleblowers called it the most significant leak in US history.

      As a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, Snowden disclosed top secret NSA documents to the media. These NSA leaks revealed operational details of a global surveillance apparatus run by the NSA, members of the Five Eyes alliance and other commercial and international partners.

    3. NSA mass surveillance – Perry Fellwock, 1971
    4. Snowden wasn’t the first to warn us about the NSA’s global mass surveillance. In 1971, Perry Fellwock revealed the existence of the then elusive NSA. In a Ramparts exposé, Fellwock helped to uncover mass domestic spying on US citizens which encouraged anti-spying legislation.

    5. Central Intelligence Agency – Anonymous, 2019
    6. In 2019, the CIA was caught out again. An unnamed CIA employee revealed a “promise” made between the US president, Donald Trump, and an unnamed foreign leader. The revelations later became known as the Trump-Ukraine scandal in the impeachment of the president on December 18, 2019.

What can the government do with metadata?

Metadata is data about data. It includes your IP address, time, location, and other identifiers. Ad brokers and marketers use metadata tracking to target you with products, but it’s also an invaluable resource for government intelligence.

When your metadata is collected in bulk, over a long period of time, it can reveal:

  • How frequently you visit a place.
  • Your hobbies and interests.
  • The people you call and how often you call them.
  • The apps you use to communicate.

Metadata can reveal patterns in our behavior, and in turn, these patterns could be used to make allegations. In 2021, a man was sentenced for the illegal possession of a firearm after being caught by police via social media. With AI (artificial intelligence) technology, machine learning, and social media, government surveillance has reached new levels.

The government uses AI to track social media profiles

Research shows that 71% of people live in countries where individuals were arrested or imprisoned for posting political, social, or religious content. With the help of AI, governments can scrape millions of social media profiles for information in record time.

From your social media profile, AI can:

  • Map your relationships.
  • Assign meaning to your social media posts.
  • See your past, present, and future locations.
  • Inform facial recognition technology.
  • Collect information about your political views, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation.

Is the CIA watching me through my phone?

Your smartphone is no exception to CIA mass surveillance. In fact, Stingrays are used by law enforcement agencies to track citizens’ movements and record conversations, text messages, names, and phone numbers. Stingrays, also known as “cell site simulators” or “IMSI catchers” mimic cell phone towers and send out signals, to trick cell phones into transmitting their locations and personal information.

How to stop the government from spying on you and protect your privacy

So, how do you stop the government from spying on you? If you do end up on a government watchlist, there's not much you can do to prevent them from targeting and gathering information about you. However, you can boost your privacy and protect yourself from CIA mass surveillance in various ways.

  • Update your devices. Updates contain bug fixes and other critical vulnerability patches. Keeping software on your devices up to date lessens the chances of them being exploited.
  • Clean up your social media accounts. If deleting your social media altogether sounds a bit extreme, at least limit the information you share about yourself. This includes vacation photos, hobbies, and political views.
  • Encrypt your communication. Switching to more privacy-oriented messaging apps like Signal can help avoid surveillance. While apps like Messenger and WhatsApp use end-to-end encryption, they still collect metadata about their users.
  • Use a VPN. It's not only your conversations you should encrypt. VPNs encrypt your personal data traffic and change your IP address, ensuring that you can browse privately. NordVPN is also the world’s first VPN to include Threat Protection, to protect your device from malware and spyware.
  • Use a password manager. Secure your accounts by storing your passwords in a password manager. Saving your passwords in your browser is risky because they can be stolen if your device is infected, or someone knows your device password.
  • Cover your webcam. Even if someone was to hack your webcam, covering it up would limit the amount of information they can gather about you.
  • Read the privacy policy of apps. Some apps collect massive amounts of data about you and share it with third parties. Always read the privacy policy to discern whether the app respects your right to privacy. This is especially important when downloading free apps, since selling your data is usually how they make money.
  • Avoid IoT devices. Since Smart TVs can act as bugs for government agencies, avoid getting one in the first place. However, if you already have a smart TV, be sure to turn off voice-related features in the settings menu. And, just to be sure, unplug it when you're not using it.
  • Don't open suspicious emails. One click on a malicious link and your device will get infected. Learn how to avoid phishing here.

Online privacy is your right. Keep it secure with a premium VPN.


Sibilė Šimkevičiūtė
Sibilė Šimkevičiūtė Sibilė Šimkevičiūtė
Sibilė spends her days browsing the net, which is where she started to learn about cyber security. She believes that everyone should have the right to go online safely, so now she shares her insights as a NordVPN content writer.