Today is a very important day for the internet. Net neutrality is vitally important to us, and to you. The concept relates to our digital rights as published by the Global Trust Centre. Net neutrality, they say, is our access to information (see Rights and Responsibilities for Citizens in the Digital World). Net neutrality was never really embodied in law in many countries around the world, as it was just assumed by default, but it was enshrined in law in some countries including the US. However, some governments have censored the internet and the most famous is the “Great Firewall of China”. The United States government is considering ending net neutrality, and allowing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to slow or even block traffic from particular websites. This is effectively allowing commercially decided censorship in the United States. The ramifications are that websites like Winjeel.Com could be blocked if US based ISPs wanted to demand a ransom. Ending net neutrality would also set a dangerous precedent, where other countries may follow suit.
Consequently, the Fight for the Future and Demand Progress digital rights groups, and over 70,000 internet-based companies are protesting the US process of ending net neutrality. If you support net neutrality, I strongly urge you to add your name to this petition on the Battle for the Net.
I didn’t know there was such a thing called “Data Privacy Day” until I got an email from the CEO from Tresorit, sent to all his service’s users. What is interesting is that privacy’s such an important concept that ensures freedom of speech and democracy, but Data Privacy Day has never been talked about in the media, at least, I’ve never seen it in the media, and so today was the first time I’ve heard of it.
Why is data protection and privacy important? It protects journalists who wish to report on corrupt politicians, or wish to inform the public of the illicit deals politicians make. It protects journalists and allows them to inform us of significant events that affect the quality of our democracy. And it’s not just journalists who need protection, it’s us too.
George Bush junior used the phrase that if you’ve done nothing wrong, then you’ve got nothing to hide. An American friend of mine echoes this saying, “I’ve got nothing to hide, so if it helps to catch terrorists, then great”. However, not one single terrorist has ever been caught from a dragnet mass surveillance programme. Not one single terrorist plot, we know of, has ever been prevented. We see that terrorist groups are still able to recruit members openly on the internet and spread their propaganda. We see journalists and their sources arrested. Instead of an erosion of our enemies, we see an erosion of our freedoms and democracies (see The Guardian, The Hill, Wired). So, safe, secure access to information and communication is important.
It’s not just an issue with a belligerent government; criminal groups do exploit unsecured communications. Consider your Amazon account, your bank’s online access, your eBay account, too. I’d like to bet you use an email service like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and the like, or even the Apple iCloud system. All of which have been hacked, and passwords obtained and identities stolen (BBC, The Guardian). Thus allowing the criminals to spend your money, or just steal information that may be damaging to your reputation. Consequently, a secure internet is important.
How can the internet be secured? http://fried.com/privacy/ has a long list of over 150 tools you can use to secure your interaction with the internet and keep you safe. In short, you really must have at least these:
Encrypted email (like ProtonMail), especially to protect your SNS passwords
It’s not often I get direct emails, and much less often form me to blog about it either. Fried.com has sent me an email with a rather comprehensive article on Privacy (on the internet). I have to admit, the article looks good, comprehensive, easy to read, and well worth a look: http://fried.com/privacy/. They list over 150 tools, services, and methods of maintaining your privacy.
However, nobody ever asks, “Why is privacy on the internet important?” It’s simple, you have locks on the door of your house to keep people out, and you don’t distribute the key to your house to corporations, advertising companies, or to the police. Currently, if the police come, they have to knock on the door first. If the police wants to come into your house, they have to ask, or get special permission to enter from a court. Currently, without privacy tools, anyone, theives and police, can look at your internet traffic, see your emails, your online shopping history, your online bank accounts, see your web browsing history, and even see your chats. They can even watch you talk to a friend on Skype. They can hear, see, and read all your comments, complaints, and opinions against companies, governments, politicians, and more. Without adequate privacy, you’re at risk of being victim of identity theft, as well as facing accusations or arrest for having views that are not in-line with corporations’ or government’s views. Has any of this happened before? Yes. See these searches, “Government hacked email“, “Internet identity theft“, “Spy on journalists“, among many other cases. Finally, for your information, I mainly use Duckduckgo.com for private web searches these days.
So please, in the same way that you have locks on the doors of your house and restrict who has the keys; you need to do the same with your computer and internet habits. It is not actually difficult, and a lot cheaper and easier than having discovered that someone has pilfered your bank account because you didn’t hide your IP address and didn’t encrypt your connection.
Ever since The Guardian broke the news leaked by a whistle blower privacy has been the the hot topic. It was revealed that the top American spy agency has direct access to Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo servers, among others (possibly even the server that hosts this website, though I don’t know; The Guardian, Prism). The problem is that all our Internet information is written and can be stored permanently. With time, the things we write become separated from the context, the mood of the time, current knowledge (at time of writing), and the original intended meaning are lost. As a consequence, this permanent written record could be used against us.
There are already complaints that free services like Facebook sell our personal information to marketers (Discovery.Com). But now, could it be used against us in legal situations? (Update, new sentence added): The Guardian describes examples where the police has abused their powers in undercover and spy situations and have put innocent people in prison and harassed a family who were victims of racism (The Guardian).
Worse still, Cloud Computing wants us to store files on remote servers as back ups, for personal web-based access, and for other reasons, but companies seem to intend to make us dependant on them. What if that company goes bankrupt? We lose our files? Or what if that company is politically targeted? Mega Upload was targeted in such a way, and law abiding legitimate users lost their personal files when it was shut down (Wikipedia). And what if the company just wants to use our files as data to sell to advertising agencies? Would you like your boyfriend seeing pregnancy test kits advertised on your web browser or phone?
There are advocates who strongly, vehemently suggest that you store nothing on the cloud, but keep it all local (Guardian). At least you keep total control of your information and files.