Do you ever feel like your government is peering over your shoulder, scrutinizing your every move? In countries like China and Russia, authorities routinely monitor and analyze internet users’ online activity. Even in democratic countries like the US and the UK, government agencies are regularly embroiled in controversy for alleged involvement in illegal and unethical mass surveillance programs.
A 2019 report published by the Pew Research Center revealed that 72% of adults feel that everything they do online is being tracked. You may think this staggering statistic describes victims of authoritarian governments like China or North Korea, but Pew surveyed citizens of the United States — the so-called “land of the free.”
Let’s explore how governments around the world approach internet surveillance and how this interplays with the general theme of privacy rights.
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State Surveillance in China
In 2020, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spent approximately 1.39 trillion yuan ($194 billion) on domestic public security. That was more than its allocated budget for defense against external forces at the time. The CCP increased the external defense budget to 1.45 trillion yuan ($200 billion) for 2022, presumably as a result of increasingly hostile relations with the West.
What this means is that China has historically been more concerned with domestic rather than external threats — but that might be changing.
Instead of Google, Chinese citizens use Baidu, a heavily state-monitored search engine. The “Great Firewall of China” keeps Chinese citizens divorced from Western internet activity.
The CCP heavily restricts VPN use in mainland China, yet, many citizens still use them, despite the risks. Prison sentences can be severe and arbitrary — one man received a five-year sentence for running a VPN.
China also encourages inter-civilian surveillance and rewards people who report “subversive behavior.” Civilians can report violations directly to government bodies via smartphone apps and hotlines. Much like Germany’s social environment before the demolition of the Berlin wall, you never know who you can trust.
China’s Social Credit System
In 2014, Mainland China introduced a social credit system, similar to that portrayed in the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive.” The system tracks all citizen activity, from purchases and social media posts to how late you stay awake at night. A person’s social credit score gets increased or decreased to reward or punish behavior.
A very low score may mean you:
- Lose your job
- Get your passport confiscated
- Can’t travel by train
- Can’t enroll your children in school
While this already sounds like a dystopian nightmare — and it very much is — it’s nothing compared to what minority groups living in China experience.
The Tibet Autonomous Region (formerly known as “Tibet” before it was invaded and stripped of its rich cultural heritage in the 1950s) has even higher levels of surveillance. Nobody can enter or leave this region without written permission from the government and in-home surveillance is not uncommon.
China’s Human Rights Violations in Xinjiang
More recently, the Chinese government has been called out for its inhumane treatment of the Uyghur community, a Muslim Turkic ethnic group in China’s Northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Russia’s Domestic Surveillance
Russia has also been quietly increasing mass surveillance of its citizens over the years. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s internet regulator, cracks down on all critics of the government. It’s thought that the System of Operational-Investigatory Measures (SORM) division of the Russian government was created for the sole purpose of spying on its own people.
Russian Telecom companies refusing to install hardware designed by the Federal Security Service can face serious legal trouble.
Overruling International Law
SORM was a regular target of the European Court for Human Rights before Russia’s exclusion from the convention in September 2022. The Court declared the Russian agency to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights multiple times. However, the declarations had little to no positive impact for Russian citizens.
In 2015, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) unanimously agreed that Russia’s surveillance legislation was in stark violation of the European Convention. However, that same day, Russia passed a law allowing them to overrule verdicts set by international court systems to “protect the interests of Russia.”
Other Surveillance Laws in Russia
If anything happens online, the Russian government wants to know about it. Here are some examples of Russian laws targeting free speech, freedom of the press, and internet privacy:
- The Bloggers’ Law (2014) stated that all bloggers with more than 3,000 daily readers could not legally be anonymous. After much criticism, the law was repealed in late 2017.
- The Yarovaya Law (2016) requires telecom companies and ISPs throughout Russia to keep a record of all user communications for up to three years.
- The Sovereign Internet Law (2019) is a set of amendments that forces all social media and email services that encrypt user data to give the government access to records on demand and without a court order.
Surveillance and Oppression in North Korea
While North Korea doesn’t technically have the internet, it serves as a warning of just how far things can go when governments assume total control. The devastating truth is that with the threat of mass starvation, regular public executions, forced unpaid labor, and prison camps, avoiding internet surveillance is the least of people’s problems.
Dictator Kim Jong-un monitors and controls every aspect of North Korean life. He is the third generation of oppressive family leaders since the end of the Second World War.
The few people lucky enough to have computers must be on a government list of registered devices and are subject to regular random checks by police. Suspected dissent or misbehavior is punishable by public execution or hard labor in North Korea’s infamous prison camps.
North Korea has its own version of the internet called the intranet. Access is filtered and citizens can only visit a handful of approved websites. Authorities also heavily monitor telephone communication. All calls get routed through a central control room, and conversations are recorded and often listened to in real time.
Surveillance in the European Union
In recent years, internet surveillance laws have come under increased scrutiny in Europe. In response to revelations about the extensive data collection practices of intelligence agencies, numerous laws were passed that aim to protect the privacy of European citizens. However, many people criticize these laws for being too broad or for failing to adequately address the problem of data collection.
As a result, the issue of internet surveillance remains a highly contentious one in Europe. Despite the passage of laws designed to protect individuals’ privacy, it’s clear that the issue of internet surveillance is far from resolved.
Internet Surveillance in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has several pieces of legislation relating to internet surveillance:
- The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 allows law enforcement agencies to intercept communications without court orders.
- The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 allows security services to access the phone and internet records of private citizens
- The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 gives the government power to collect and store data on internet usage.
While some argue that these controversial laws infringe upon civil liberties, the UK government defends them as necessary for national security. In recent years, the UK has also passed laws requiring internet companies to remove “harmful” content from their platforms.
Free speech advocates criticize these laws as distinguishing what’s harmful and what isn’t is subjectively decided by a small number of people. Yet, the UK government argues that it’s within the public interest.
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Mass Surveillance in the United States
Internet surveillance in the United States has been a controversial topic since 2001, when the US government passed laws allowing greater mass surveillance of its citizens in the wake of the September 11 attacks. While some argue that this surveillance is necessary to protect national interests, others believe it violates privacy rights.
The USA PATRIOT Act, 2001
Forty-five days after the 9/11 attacks, with the nation in a panic, Congress enacted the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act). This was a series of laws that permitted government authorities to spy on domestic and foreign citizens without a warrant or judge’s approval.
Not only did the act permit law enforcement to issue National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain phone, computer, credit, and banking records without a judge’s approval, it also forbade anyone receiving an NSL to talk about it. A series of legal cases deemed these “gag orders” to be unconstitutional, but law enforcement continues to issue them. This year (2022) saw a steep rise in gag orders issued to educational institutions.
Moreover, the PATRIOT Act gave law enforcement the ability to carry out “sneak and peek” surveillance. This meant they could enter citizens’ property and install wiretapping without a warrant, knowledge, or consent.
Despite being touted as an anti-terror measure, between 2003 and 2005, none of the sneak and peeks conducted were terror-related. And in 2010, less than 1% of sneak and peeks were terror-related.
Many of the temporary measures contained in the USA PATRIOT Act were modified and extended by subsequent pieces of legislation, most notably the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015.
The Foreign Information Surveillance Act (FISA) was first established in 1978 to permit intelligence agencies to spy on foreign bodies. This included permission to conduct physical and electronic surveillance without a court order. It also removed the budget cap for border security, which led to a tripling of border security staff.
The PATRIOT Act expanded these provisions to allow law enforcement to spy on domestic citizens suspected of terrorism. However, as we’ve seen, it’s rarely used for terror-related reasons.
Originally, the FISA was set to expire in 2012, but the House and Senate voted to extend the law for another five years. The request was approved under President Barack Obama on December 30th, 2012.
In January 2018, the Senate approved another six-year extension for FISA Section 702, which gives intelligence organizations the right to monitor the communications of non-US citizens abroad. The act is due to expire in 2023, but with the US government’s history of anti-privacy laws, it’s not likely to suddenly reverse its foothold.
Edward Snowden’s Revelations
The single biggest revelation about the US government’s mass surveillance came from former CIA employee Edward Snowden in 2013. He risked his career and life to leak classified information detailing surveillance programs run by the NSA. Snowden released more than 1.7 million intelligence files that he obtained from the Five Eyes surveillance alliance.
He revealed the advanced domestic spying and illegal NSA internet surveillance program that monitors internet activity and telephone conversations of more than a billion people worldwide. In interviews, he offers tips for avoiding internet surveillance.
The Post-Snowden Era
Seven years after Snowden sacrificed his freedom and career to inform the public about privacy violations by the state, the US Court of Appeal officially ruled NSA activity illegal. It also concluded that the state actors defending the activity were not telling the truth. Yet, despite this ruling, the NSA still conducts surveillance activities with minimal oversight, and society has simply had to swallow the pill of the new normal.
Today, big tech companies often provide user data to law enforcement upon request. This dubious collaboration remains a contentious public issue.
Avoid Internet Surveillance with CyberGhost VPN
While your knee-jerk reaction might be to think of the United States as completely free and countries like North Korea, Russia, and China as crushing under the weight of heavy surveillance and censorship, internet surveillance is not so black and white.
Governments around the world spy on citizens and many have been called out for breaching the human right to privacy and dignity. Despite statistics showing that the majority of people are unhappy about internet surveillance, most do nothing to mitigate it.
Does convenience override your desire for digital privacy? You might be experiencing “surveillance apathy.” If you’re concerned about internet surveillance and want to safeguard your privacy, consider using a high-quality VPN.
CyberGhost VPN is a leader in internet privacy. Our state-of-the-art VPN service offers a range of features and perks, including the fastest VPN servers on the market, multiple device connections, and a 45-day money-back guarantee.
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Internet surveillance is the act of monitoring and collecting data from internet users. Government authorities or other third parties can do this through a variety of means, including tracking browsing history, using cookies and other tracking technologies, and accessing metadata.
Use a high-quality VPN to help protect yourself against internet surveillance. A VPN routes your internet traffic through an intermediary server to protect your real-life location. VPN encryption scrambles your data to prevent your ISP or other authorities from seeing what you do online.
In some cases, authorities use internet surveillance is used to track criminals and terrorists. In other cases, governments use surveillance to monitor the activities of activists and political dissidents or censor content that’s deemed harmful or offensive.
Some experts argue that government surveillance can lead to self-censorship, as people become more afraid to express controversial opinions online. People may fear being penalized by authorities for saying the “wrong” thing.
Download CyberGhost VPN and Protect your online privacy and combat illegal surveillance.
There have been many cases where internet surveillance has interfered with the human right to privacy. For example, in China and North Korea, the government subjects citizens to inhumane levels of surveillance. Whistleblowers have also repeatedly exposed illegal surveillance activity in the United States.
Leave a comment
Kimberly M. Moore
Posted on 28/03/2022 at 23:24
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Posted on 29/03/2022 at 12:51
Hi Kimberly. Sorry to hear you are encountering issues. You can contact our customer support team through 24/7 live chat or email for them to check your account and advise further.
Posted on 08/03/2021 at 06:33
This app is really cool
Posted on 08/03/2021 at 08:52
Glad to hear you enjoy our service, Ruby. 🙂
Posted on 08/11/2020 at 18:25
Hi as a new ghosting, how many devices can I connect to?
Posted on 09/11/2020 at 08:04
Hi, Domonique! You can use CyberGhost VPN on up to seven devices at the same time. 🙂
Posted on 28/07/2020 at 14:27
New customer… Informative read…
But one mistake/error… Food in UK is NOT terrible!
Looks like you have not explore enough many of great British dishes/food (English, Scottish, Welish etc) on offer.
Maybe just your own taste & view from based on how many trips to UK and what kind of places (probably not the right ones) have to you been to?
Posted on 31/07/2020 at 16:56
De gustibus non est disputandum. 😅
Posted on 08/08/2020 at 18:18
Thats what you get from this????food goodness or ass-skinkedness is subjective
Posted on 04/07/2020 at 09:16
Can I connect cyber ghost to my Roku.or my Android box?
Posted on 09/07/2020 at 10:10
Hi, John! Yes, we support both Roku TVs and Android TV boxes.
Posted on 30/06/2020 at 19:21
super enjoy vpn
Posted on 02/07/2020 at 11:50
Enjoy your online anonymity and security, Ghostie!
Posted on 14/06/2020 at 23:50
Thank you so much for this higly important imformation.
Posted on 16/06/2020 at 16:31
Glad to hear you enjoyed reading, Ghostie!
Posted on 23/03/2020 at 04:04
Muchas gracias por darnos la información para poder estar seguros!!
Son una bendición!!
Posted on 11/03/2020 at 21:26
Thank you so much for the protection
Posted on 21/02/2020 at 09:56
Yep redhot guys. I’ve been with CG now for 3 years and trust you guys implicitly. I like your style, always have. Keep up the absolutely EXCELLENT work!!
Posted on 08/02/2020 at 00:02
That was very interesting. My phone has been hacked for two years apps showing up from nowhere and I have no control over them
Posted on 04/02/2020 at 10:37
Kurz und bündig! Großes Kompliment an Dich, Tom.
Echt haarsträubende Szenarien mit denen wir auf unserer schönen Welt tag-täglich leben und ungefragter Weise vorlieb nehmen müssen!
Ich begrüße den Informationsbereitstellung in diesem Artikel sehr. Denn das Ausmass der Spionagetätigkeiten weltweit, ob in privater oder kommerzieller Hinsicht, hatte ich lange Zeit unterschätzt .
Allgemeine Aufklärung wäre dringend notwendig und so wichtig, schon alleine für das weitere Fortbestehen unserer so bekannten Freiheit!
Grüße an Dich und Dein Team.
Posted on 03/02/2020 at 05:30
Cyber ghost I have been using for 3 years now.
It is far
Posted on 30/01/2020 at 21:32
Posted on 12/01/2020 at 18:15
love that article.. it all begins now . not for them , but for us. to unite and take it all back .
Posted on 19/12/2019 at 01:59
Thank you, Tom! I am a student studying online and was in awe when I receieved an email saying that my account could be shut off due to downloading a movie. I will admit my guilt and I am not doing anything that I care to tell but if they know that, I feel like they know everything. I can’t get on the internet without getting dressed as I would if I were going to a brick and mortar college. I felt like there are strangers in my own home! I feel much better about things now that I’m a ghostie and I appreciate your service! Now, I can get up and study in my PJ’s without worrying about the cable guy (internet provider) watching my every move! Who knows! I may just study bare-butt naked now! Lol!
Posted on 17/12/2019 at 20:47
Very informative article.
Posted on 06/12/2019 at 05:51
This is beyond useful. Thank you for existing!
Posted on 26/11/2019 at 22:42
Eye-opening indeed! Thanks!
James H McGee Jr
Posted on 26/11/2019 at 02:41
Posted on 12/11/2019 at 17:35
Is there a way I can find out what internet cyber software my state is using? They already made a law to give them the right to watch our internet interaction with our facial recognition and our medical records. I have already lost my out going emails. Been blocked from Watching a lot of videos on YouTube.
Posted on 29/10/2019 at 05:20
Thore Werner wærås
Posted on 23/10/2019 at 20:13
I have had this program on my server , laptop, router and phone, never had virus or trouble
Thore Werner Wærås
Posted on 21/11/2021 at 03:44
Its like a but-plug, install it and enjoy
Posted on 22/10/2019 at 06:03
Posted on 22/10/2019 at 06:02
Posted on 22/10/2019 at 06:02
Its pretty good
Posted on 12/10/2019 at 11:08
This article really opened my US of A eyes to how far we have come and it is scary. Glad to have a solution like yours to feel we have some privacy online. Even if we are just browsing to make Brownies. Thanks again!
Posted on 18/09/2019 at 19:55
Wow how awesome
Posted on 03/09/2019 at 22:44
All I want is to have the freedom to visit some proper adult sites without the possibilities of being hacked or spied upon. How best can I achieve this with cyber ghost vpn?
Jason Kendall of Newcastle N.S.W , Australia
Posted on 02/09/2019 at 18:24
What is the world coming to, pretty soon we won’t be able to take a crap unless there is survialance cameras installed in the toilet cubical where big brother can watch if we are a wiper or a scruncher, I hate cameras and they are everywhere we go, come on society, we didn’t need video survialance in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s,70’s, and they only had just started thinking about it around the 80’s , everyone managed back then so WTF????
Posted on 30/08/2019 at 00:35
Pas de wifi, suis je sécurisé, chez moi ,sur mon smartphone ? Merci.
Posted on 27/07/2019 at 20:14
i recently came under attack by some people who got control of my mouse curser and put a blue screen on my computer, and tried to get me to pay them 200 dollers to remove it.
Posted on 13/07/2020 at 17:12
Posted on 01/04/2019 at 08:43
Google are responsible for helping the Chinese Government censor its internet. Google should be the most hated and despised company in the world, for not only what they have done to China but also how they have helped the US government and other world governments spy on their own citizens and stifle free speech. on an open internet. Google should not be allowed to have the monopoly that they have but they get away with it because of their usefulness to world governments.
I live in hope that someone will take on Google in the courts for unfair monopolistic practices. If Google were any other company, say selling computers, they would have to face the courts. This should not be allowed and tolerated and people everywhere need to drink a cup of “Wake-the-fuck-up” and realize that Google is not their friend. Disable all Google services that you possible can on your mobile phone. Use DuckDuckGo as an internet search, and never miss an opportunity to take back the power to where it should be.
Posted on 02/04/2019 at 12:29
Thanks for your comment, Neil!
Many of the big online giants engage in some questionable-at-best practices. As you say, Google in particular stands out due to the power they hold. While they do get hit with various fines, these are like drops in the ocean. So yes, until more serious action is taken, users deciding to go with more privacy-friendly services is one way (among many) to fight back against digital surveillance.
Posted on 20/07/2019 at 04:13
Posted on 23/09/2019 at 15:43
I attempted to rid myself of all Google tenticles on my machine. One result was the loss of Internet connection.
Has anyone published a How-to column regarding the way to completely purge Google ?
Posted on 24/03/2019 at 19:05
Would be interesting to know who the manufacturers are which made the equipment for those surveillances.; also, which companies marketed that equipment to China, Russia, and N. Korea.
I would not be surprised in those companies are directly based out of the United States of America, especially because of how Google, Facebook, Amazon, and their related or subsidiaries operate these days.
Posted on 25/03/2019 at 11:21
I agree, it would definitely be interesting to know all of that. And while you may think non-US companies are more likely to be complicit, a recent article in The Intercept highlighted the extent IBM was involved in the Philippines.
It just goes to show, you can’t take anything for granted when it comes to this stuff!
Posted on 24/03/2019 at 13:56
You’ve noted Facebook above, but I think you should’ve mentioned Oculus which is also in their family. In Google’s family is DragonFly. The two bastardised family members aforenoted are projects, to their “respective” parent companies, in communist China.
Posted on 25/03/2019 at 11:44
Hi Sal, thanks for the suggestions.
I’ll see if I can address these projects somewhere in a future article. 🙂
Posted on 24/03/2019 at 08:41
Illuminating article, no doubt. Thanks Tom.
Posted on 25/03/2019 at 10:57
Thanks! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed.
Posted on 22/03/2019 at 22:48
Excellent article Tom. I like your light style combined with the heavy, important information. Love what you guys are doing over at Cyberghost. Keep it up and thank you!
Posted on 22/03/2019 at 23:34
Thanks Mac! 🙂