7 Times Governments Have Spied On Its People And Each Other

By: Rajiv Prajapati  | | 4 mins Jul 22, 2021

India is currently up in arms about a far-reaching surveillance scandal being propagated by the Narendra Modi-led government. The Indian government is said to have used a surveillance program procured from Israel, called ‘Pegasus’, to snoop on all manners of party threats. 


These threats, as it turned out, were left-leaning journalists, opposition party leaders, and at one point, the Nepali ambassador to India as well. 


The case has brought into light the growing tendency of governments to engage in wide-spread surveillance of its people and other governments. Here are 7 famous instances in which governments have spied on its own people, and on each other. 


1. The NSA Program Leaked By Edward Snowden


The award for Biggest Spy Program Conducted By A Government goes unquestionably to USA’s National Security Agency. In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed inside details about multiple spy programs by the NSA. 


It was revealed that the NSA received ALL telephone data from major telecommunications company Verizon on a daily basis. On top of that, NSA had physically bugged offices of the EU and hacked into global internet networks. 


NSA even listened in on the phone calls of 35 world leaders — including the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel!




2. UK’s GCHQ Scandal


GCHQ is a UK-based surveillance agency and was an important part of the NSA’s illegal spying network. It was this company that tapped into global fiber-optic cables and fed the NSA with internet communications data from all over the world. 


The program was codenamed Tempora and was a part of the NSA project called Prism.




3. The Secret Files Scandal


The concept of public surveillance is neither limited to the US nor is it recent in any way. One of the biggest public scandals regarding widespread public surveillance goes back to 1989, and took place in Switzerland.


This surveillance program was conducted by the Swiss Federal Police starting all the way back in 1900 — meaning, it went on totally unchecked for 89 years before it was eventually discovered and investigated.


The Federal Police created detailed dossiers on every 20th Swiss citizen and every 3rd foreigner living in the country. Over 900,000 people were placed under surveillance during this period, especially during the cold war.


Most of the surveillance was done on left-wing personalities, starting from German Nazis and leftwing activists and later including anyone that demonstrated ‘un-Swiss’ behavior. 



4. China’s Ongoing System Of Mass Facial Recognition


In the present day, it is commonly agreed that the US government has lost its edge in technological supremacy. Instead, it’s mega-companies like countries like China that pop up regularly in surveillance scandals. 


Except for the fact that China’s ongoing national surveillance system is not quite a scandal — it is the status quo. The country has garnered massive international power and is answerable to virtually no one.


In the shadow of this global power, China continues to monitor its citizens closely using facial recognition technology and cameras perched on every corner.




The current results from this system range from the benign to the downright horrible. On the one hand, China has been known to publicly shame its citizens for wearing pajamas in public. 


On the other hand, it has been known to use its facial recognition technology to identify Uyghur Muslims and capture them. Chinese company Hikvision even marketed some cameras as being able to “automatically identify Uyghur Muslims”, according to an article by IPVM.


5. China VS The World


China’s surveillance state doesn’t stop at its own citizens. The country has come under fire numerous times for surveilling on foreign nationals and even hacking international companies. 


Most recently, it was accused by the US and a number of US allies of conducting a global espionage program, including hacking a Microsoft email server.




6. The Zhenhua Data Scandal


Similarly, last year, a Chinese company data company called Zhenhua Data was found to be building a large database on 24 million people worldwide — including common citizens and prominent ones too. The company is known to contract for Chinese military and intelligence wings.  


The database included publicly available data such as birthdates, addresses, marital status, photographs, social media IDs, and even details of their relatives. 


CEO of the company, Wang Xuefeng, explained the idea behind this data scraping campaign in some pretty candid terms through WeChat, describing a new “hybrid war” that would manipulate public opinion and use “psychological warfare”. 




7. The Russia SolarWinds Hack


Russia probably shares the crown with China for conducting the most active digital espionage campaigns at this point in time. Similar to China, Russian hacking scandals are more than a handful.


But the SolarWinds hack of 2019 takes the cake because of its sheer magnitude. It has been termed by cybersecurity experts as being the most large-scale hack in all of history. 



SolarWinds is a major IT company located in the US, with thousands of high-profile clients that include multiple US government agencies as well as big corporations like Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco. 


When the hack was first discovered, it had already been set into motion for a few months. Subsequent study revealed the depth and magnitude of the hack, which compromised sensitive data from multiple US government agencies and high-profile companies.



Well, these are just some instances where governments engaged in large-scale surveillance of people and governments. It seems, the digital realm is the next big gold rush and the leading governments of the world are trying their hardest to be at the top.


Amidst all this, though, the privacy and safety of common citizens continue to face ever-greater threats. Do you think the Nepali government is doing enough to stay safe amidst all this? Follow us and let us know in the comments.

Also Read: Here's How The Government Is Limiting Your Freedom Of Speech, One Law At A Time

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