Beach at Brighton, UK, August 2013
“I would rather have a rectal examination on live TV by a fellow with cold hands than have a Facebook page.” — George Clooney, Sept 2009
“To the engineers, I say this: we built the Internet, and some of us have helped to subvert it. Now, those of us who love liberty have to fix it.” — Bruce Schneier, Sept 2013
Update (Sept 9). More evidence of the damage to online privacy politicians can cause without any help from spooks or decryption… TorrentFreak is running a story about British PM David Cameron and his alarming online content filter. Mobile carriers in the UK must have the filter turned on by default to block content that may be considered “harmful” to children. As the story points out: “The filter mainly targets adult-oriented content, but one provider now says that VPN services also fall into this category as they allow kids to bypass age restrictions.” In other words, the use of a VPN service like WiTopia, which I describe at the end of this post, may turn out to be illegal. Without the anonymity provided by tools like VPNs (virtual private networks), the public cannot expect to have any reasonable measure of privacy on the Internet.
Update 2 (Sept 9). ISOC has issued a statement strongly condemning the US government’s attack on the Internet’s core encryption technologies. An excerpt:
“The Internet Society believes that global interoperability and openness of the Internet are pre-requisites for confidence in online interaction; they unlock the Internet as a forum for economic and social progress; and they are founded on basic assumptions of trust. We are deeply concerned that these principles are being eroded and that users’ legitimate expectations of online security are being treated with contempt. … Security is a collective responsibility that involves multiple stakeholders. In this regard, we call on:
- Those involved in technology research and development: use the openness of standards processes like the IETF to challenge assumptions about security specifications.
- Those who implement the technology and standards for Internet security: uphold that responsibility in your work, and be mindful of the damage caused by loss of trust.
- Those who develop products and services that depend on a trusted Internet: secure your own services, and be intolerant of insecurity in the infrastructure on which you depend.”
This summer, the Snowden NSA revelations greatly altered priorities in the battle for an otherwise enduring goal: keeping the Internet secure and open for use by us ordinary folk.
True, some things never change. Persistently the enemy of reason and fair play, Verizon will have its day in court on September 9, when it begins arguments before the D.C. Circuit as to why the FCC’s network neutrality rules should be torn up into little pieces, cremated and cast into the Chesapeake Bay. The carrier claims the FCC has no possible grounds for imposing such rules; is acting capriciously by trying to do so; and is threatening Verizon’s First Amendment rights into the bargain. As Harold Feld of Public Knowledge wrote in his policy blog:
“Just like Verizon FiOS decides whether or not to carry Al Jazeera America, and on what terms, Verizon argues it has the right to decide whether or not to go to AlJazeera.com, and on what terms.”
Abuse as a feature, privacy as a bug
Which brings us to Facebook and another unsettling story about risks to privacy. Facebook has once again given not just movie stars and world-renowned cryptographers like Bruce Schneier but a billion other people compelling reasons to worry about their privacy. Not that this is news. Abusing everyone’s privacy – in part by changing the abuse policy regularly – is a Facebook feature not a bug. This month it’s not even changing policy, just “clarifying” it. As the LA Times noted:
“The new language says users automatically give Facebook the right to use their information unless they specifically deny the company permission to do it. At the same time, Facebook made it more complicated to opt out.”