So, the CIA can hack all your shit, at any time. Should you care?
In the biggest spy news to hit since Edward Snowden revealed the NSA was logging all your phone calls, leaked documents have recently confirmed that the CIA is watching the shit out of you. Through sophisticating hacking of your phone, smart TV, and even your car, the country's most clandestine agency is able to monitor your mundane movements 24/7, endlessly collecting data for ... who knows what.
Should you care? Maybe — especially if you buy, grow or smoke weed, which is still technically a federal crime, or if you're doing other shenanigans college kids do: buying two hits of molly for Beats Antique, betting twenty on the Broncos, torrenting The Avengers, cheating on your partner, etc.
If you are, here are three key things to remember.
1. The CIA probably isn't listening.
"There's a difference between what is possible and what is actually happening," Judd Golden, who was the head of the Boulder County ACLU for two decades, told me. "The likelihood that a government would focus on any particular person is pretty low."
They target terrorists, pedophiles, human traffickers, and large-scale drug dealers — spies don't have time to listen in to random college dudes' conversations until the world "marijuana" gets uttered, Golden says. Other experts agreed. "It's probable that they're reserved for use with high value targets," Bruce McConnell, a global vice president at the EastWest Institute, a non-partisan think tank, told USA Today.
2. There's a difference between what the CIA (or the NSA or the FBI) is able to technically hear and what can be used against you in court.
For your words to be used in court, and to hold up, the law has to go to a judge to ask her to let them spy on you, and the judge has to issue a warrant, and then law enforcement has to listen in on your and record it. It's not that it doesn't happen, but it's a much more difficult game.
3. You're still going to be tried by a jury of your peers.
That means that before you're going to jail, 12 regular people have to agree that what you did merits sitting in a cell. And regular people are growing ever less likely to jail folks for a few ounces of weed. Public opinion still matters. Regular humans are still in charge. The CIA isn't in every jury box. We don't live in Russia — yet.
One mistake people make is voluntarily giving up their privacy entirely, saying, "Well, the CIA knows everything anyway, so I'm not going to even try to keep stuff private. I think I'll do drug deals on my feed on Facebook." That's being lazy. There are some basic things you can do to keep yourself safe.
1. Never write anything down. This isn't because the CIA might see it; it's because someone you know might use it against you: the lover you just cheated on, or the idiot you buy gray-market weed from who might roll on you. Speaking on the phone is way better than texting, even if it's annoying to hear another human's actual voice.
2. Never talk to the cops, about anything, without a lawyer. Low-level criminals often assume that they can talk their way out of a situation just by coming clean. "Sorry, officer, it was just one plant too many. You understand." Why make the cops' job easy for them? It's often very hard for them to prove things if you don't cooperate. The only thing you have to say is, "I'm sorry, I'm very busy now and don't have time to talk, and I won't talk without a lawyer present." Don't worry if you don't have a lawyer now. You can call Saul later.
3. Use encrypted messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp and Off-the-Record Messaging. There's no evidence yet that the CIA can hack those. “Signal, WhatsApp and other encrypted messaging services are still functioning exactly as originally intended as the hackers aren’t ‘breaking’ that encryption,” Ajay Arora, CEO and co-founder of security firm Vera, told TechCrunch.
So, to sum up: while it's super scary that the CIA can watch and listen to you all the time, you're probably not enough of a criminal for them to care, and they can't use what they get against you anyway. Hope that brings you peace of mind, you filthy criminal.