Surveillance and data harvesting have become ubiquitous in the digital age, enveloping our personal and professional lives in ways that often go unnoticed. The revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden and exposes like the one addressed on VICE provide a deep dive into the capabilities of surveillance and its implications for privacy and security. This raises the critical question: When we capture everything, do we capture nothing of true value? Instead, are these efforts providing us courage in the face of pervasive scrutiny and potential persecution?

Sometimes, the world's most modern spies are just as reliant on conventional reconnaissance methods as their predecessors.

With modern surveillance tools, there is an inescapable gaze. (To learn more, scope the recent Flipper Zero and GrapheneOS workshops I've presented at PlebLab.)

Intrusions into personal phones can turn cameras on, access contact lists, read SMS messages, and track physical locations, even with GPS disabled.

Make no mistake, the depth of metadata collection, resembling a modern-day TAO team capable of chronicling every minute detail of daily life, is profoundly invasive and potentially feasible for capable citizens.

Even iPhones have become great surveillance tools.

The Scope of Surveillance

US operations escalated after the 9/11 attacks when President George W. Bush authorized the collection of American communications with foreign targets.

Introduction of Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, leaked thousands of classified documents in 2013, highlighting the extent of the NSA's capabilities. These leaks included a secret court order for Verizon to hand over call data and information about the Prism program, granting the NSA access to emails and video chats from major tech companies. Snowden's revelations inadvertently brought attention to an elite NSA unit called Tailored Access Operations (TAO).

Tailored Access Operations (TAO)

TAO is the NSA's specialized hacking unit likened to digital "commandos" or "special forces." Their main goal is to perform targeted cyber operations, breaking into computers and networks to gather intelligence. Rather than mass surveillance, TAO focuses on strategic, high-value targets, significantly impacting physical military operations on the ground.

Methodology and Recruitment

TAO employs sophisticated techniques, such as installing spyware in mobile phones or attacking software vulnerabilities, to facilitate intelligence gathering. The NSA recruits highly skilled hackers, often from top computer science and cybersecurity programs, though it needs help competing with the private sector's financial incentives.

Ethical Implications and Controversy

The unit's activities have generated controversy, with leaks showing they have also targeted friendly foreign nations and non-terrorist individuals. This has raised ethical concerns about balancing national security and infringing on privacy and global internet security.

Tor is a free overlay network that enables anonymous communication. Built on free and open-source software and more than seven thousand volunteer-operated relays worldwide, users can have their Internet traffic routed via a random path through the network.

The world of surveillance and data harvesting has become an intricate web that potentially entraps political journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens worldwide. In authoritarian regimes, these tools are weaponized to stifle dissent, crush political opposition, and maintain power.

This week, I spoke with Lyudmyla Kozlovska from the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF), a human rights organization. She opened up about the grim realities faced by activists in such environments.

Is Freedom Now Holy Terrain?


As technology advances and integrates into every aspect of our lives, society—lawmakers, tech companies, and individuals alike—must draw definitive lines to ensure the principles of freedom and privacy are not eclipsed by the harvesting of data collection.

There are growing concerns that large tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Meta, and OpenAI are "working closely" with governments, potentially leading to the control and centralization of AI technology for their interests. This could result in regulatory capture, censorship, and increasing monopolistic practices, further compromising individual freedoms.

This is leading to a government spending problem.

Almost anything bought in the private sector is also purchased, to a degree, by the government. Independent commissions established by the White House corroborate this, indicating no significant success in thwarting attacks despite extensive and expensive data collection.

Particularly in democracies, the challenge lies in balancing the need for security against the potentially overreaching powers of surveillance—a dilemma that could propel societies toward a dystopian landscape reminiscent of Orwell's "1984."

All Surveillance Runs Upstream - Sunday Orange Flow
It’s been a week! The silent war of surveillance is at our doorstep, and it’s being gathered whether you like it or not. The discourse around surveillance, privacy, and emerging technologies like Bitcoin and AI is relevant and timely crucial. It’s also been on the top of my mind in conversations I have been having. We live in a digital era, where every byte of personal information can be considered currency, data, or viewed as a threat to the state.

Still, the critical question becomes: How do we, as a society, fortify our defenses against data misuse while promoting tools that safeguard fundamental freedoms?

Patriots inside these institutions must recognize the imperative to balance security and privacy, ensuring that surveillance technologies and data harvesting do not become tools of repression.

We need to ask ourselves: Will we safeguard the fundamental right to privacy and rethink the boundaries of surveillance?

Do we still honor the founding fathers and uphold the United States Constitution they desperately fought and bled for?

Living without being constantly watched is a sense of holy terrain—a sacred space where one's thoughts, actions, and interactions remain private. This sanctuary of privacy is essential for the free exercise of individual thought and expression, where innovation and personal growth can thrive.

Thus, you will know them by their fruits. I experienced this on my recent retreat, which opened my eyes to the possibilities of being truly free.