This analysis was made easier by the release by WikiLeaks last week of their "Vault 7" archive of classified documents, which reveal the capabilities developed by the CIA for advanced electronic surveillance. Many headlines have been devoted to the "Weeping Angel" program, which allows for eavesdropping by turning on the microphones of 'smart' televisions, while giving the target the impression that the television is off.
This program particularly disturbing because it calls to mind the telescreens of Orwell's 1984, but it is not significantly different from what Edward Snowden revealed about the National Security Agency's ability to turn on webcams secretly. Vault 7 reveals much more troubling information. Applications that were formerly thought to allow for secure communication can all be bypassed with new techniques that allow access to the kernels of smartphones -- this means that the encryption built into WhatsApp and Whisper is beside the point. The new CIA programs allow them to insert keystroke loggers onto users' iPhones and Android 'phones (BlackBerrys were cracked in 2009), and then upload the record secretly. It also allows for surreptitious uploads of geolocation records and other personal data.
Vault 7 reveals the disturbing proliferation of these tools. The FBI has been given access to these applications suites, which could create issues in law enforcement that would dwarf those created by the use of Stingray 'phone trackers. Additionally, the CIA admits that hackers, presumably from other nations, manged to obtain copies of the code for many of these applications, creating an arms race between foreign intelligence services, and allowing for ever more sophisticated computer crime (this follows the theft of very sophisticated malware code from a front for the NSA's Tailored Access Operations (the Equation Group) by an organization known as "The Shadow Brokers."
As concerns have been raised about the possibility that American elections could be "hacked", it is worth noting that the CIA used these techniques to exactly that to foreign nations. Vault 7 reveals that in 2012, the CIA conducted a ten-month operation to secure highly sensitive information on the candidates in the French Presidential Election. This raised eyebrows in the press, particularly as some reporters have speculated that the UMBRAGE program could be used to suggest to the targets of these attacks that they had been committed by other country's intelligence agencies.
There are also indications that the CIA is developing sophisticated cyberwarfare weapons by refining the Shamoon 2 virus, which was used to devastating effect against oil and gas companies Saudi Aramco and RasGas in 2012. (The CIA is developing similar capabilities as the NSA, which recently attempted to use the Stuxnet virus to derail the North Korean nuclear program --it failed, leading to a significant risk of war). Additionally, the CIA was researching ways of hacking and taking over control of passenger vehicles, purportedly as a means of assassination. The risks associated with the proliferation of these programs is virtually unimaginable; the development of these cyberweapons is unspeakably irresponsible.
CIA documents also reveal that mass surveillance is only possible with the collusion of major corporations, who have repeatedly proven themselves willing to assist intelligence agencies in breaching their customers' privacy. Vault 7 reveals that this has hit new heights -- the CIA now consults with a group of tech companies before they decide to reveal their discoveries of major security weaknesses. This is done so to prevent CIA hacking operations from being interrupted. At the same time, consumers are encouraged to believe that state of the art anti-virus/malware software and encryption can keep their information private --something which these companies know to be false. Those conducting mass surveillance rely on that illusion of security.
Most disturbingly, the executive branch writes the rules governing this surveillance, and rewrite them whenever it is necessary to expand its scope. The legislative oversight mandated by the rule of law is nonexistent. When Congress attempted to investigate the CIA's torture program, the Agency hacked the computers of Senate Intelligence Committee, but the Department of Justice (an executive branch agency) decided not to prosecute its colleagues in the intelligence community, who report to the same president at the end of the day. When Congress accepted this, and also failed to pursue Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for lying about dragnet surveillance on Americans, it set the stage for all the abuses that followed. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration will likely set a new bar for horrifying abuses of this surveillance technology.