Let's just say it's been a pretty bad year for spies and government agencies and an even worse one for the privacy of U.S. citizens. Edward Snowden blew the lid off the NSA's spy program, and the FBI was recently discovered to have the ability to access your webcam any time they want—without triggering the "camera on" light. Yeah, that means those Justin Bieber lip sync videos you recorded weren't just for your private collection.
Now, of course, both agencies are saying it's much ado about nothing, but let's be real. While the creation of these surveillance programs were designed to catch the "bad guys," the privacy and fundamental right of countless unknowing victims have been trampled on.
So much so, that a federal judge, Richard Leon, ruled the NSA program unconstitutional, saying: "I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval."
So, while the FBI and even some overachieving hackers can remotely access your webcam and microphone, they can't do anything if the lens and mic is covered. Here are a few super simple ways to protect your webcam and privacy from secret agents or nefarious hackers.
- If it's a detached webcam, just unplug it; it can't work without power from the USB bus.
- For built-in cams, just cover the lens with tape. However, some tape, especially electrical tape, will leave behind a sticky residue after exposure to heat.
- If you don't want to tape it directly, trying making a removable DIY webcam cover with tape and a paperclip.
- If you never use your webcam, you can also take apart your laptop and disconnect it, though you'll probably void your warranty.
And don't underestimate the skills of your would-be hacker or rogue government agency. Your new Xbox One with Kinect may be a great time to spend a few hours playing Assassin's Creed, but who knows if the NSA or FBI are hacking into those devices, as well. Cell phones too...that FaceTime session with grandma could include a very homesick international spy. Verizon even filed a patent for a TV that watches you as you watch it, to "better serve you ads."
So, just be careful out there, because you never know who's watching.