Should We Have an Expectation of Online Privacy?
This essay appeared as the second half of a point/counterpoint with Marcus Ranum. Marcus's half is here.
If your data is online, it is not private. Oh, maybe it seems private. Certainly, only you have access to your e-mail. Well, you and your ISP. And the sender's ISP. And any backbone provider who happens to route that mail from the sender to you. And, if you read your personal mail from work, your company. And, if they have taps at the correct points, the NSA and any other sufficiently well-funded government intelligence organization -- domestic and international.
You could encrypt your mail, of course, but few of us do that. Most of us now use webmail. The general problem is that, for the most part, your online data is not under your control. Cloud computing and software as a service exacerbate this problem even more.
Your webmail is less under your control than it would be if you downloaded your mail to your computer. If you use Salesforce.com, you're relying on that company to keep your data private. If you use Google Docs, you're relying on Google. This is why the Electronic Privacy Information Center recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: many of us are relying on Google's security, but we don't know what it is.
This is new. Twenty years ago, if someone wanted to look through your correspondence, he had to break into your house. Now, he can just break into your ISP. Ten years ago, your voicemail was on an answering machine in your office; now it's on a computer owned by a telephone company. Your financial accounts are on remote websites protected only by passwords; your credit history is collected, stored, and sold by companies you don't even know exist.
And more data is being generated. Lists of books you buy, as well as the books you look at, are stored in the computers of online booksellers. Your affinity card tells your supermarket what foods you like. What were cash transactions are now credit card transactions. What used to be an anonymous coin tossed into a toll booth is now an EZ Pass record of which highway you were on, and when. What used to be a face-to-face chat is now an e-mail, IM, or SMS conversation -- or maybe a conversation inside Facebook.
Remember when Facebook recently changed its terms of service to take further control over your data? They can do that whenever they want, you know.
We have no choice but to trust these companies with our security and privacy, even though they have little incentive to protect them. Neither ChoicePoint, Lexis Nexis, Bank of America, nor T-Mobile bears the costs of privacy violations or any resultant identity theft.
This loss of control over our data has other effects, too. Our protections against police abuse have been severely watered down. The courts have ruled that the police can search your data without a warrant, as long as others hold that data. If the police want to read the e-mail on your computer, they need a warrant; but they don't need one to read it from the backup tapes at your ISP.
This isn't a technological problem; it's a legal problem. The courts need to recognize that in the information age, virtual privacy and physical privacy don't have the same boundaries. We should be able to control our own data, regardless of where it is stored. We should be able to make decisions about the security and privacy of that data, and have legal recourse should companies fail to honor those decisions. And just as the Supreme Court eventually ruled that tapping a telephone was a Fourth Amendment search, requiring a warrant -- even though it occurred at the phone company switching office and not in the target's home or office -- the Supreme Court must recognize that reading personal e-mail at an ISP is no different.
Categories: Privacy and Surveillance
Tags: Information Security
As every generation comes they bring with them a new invention from cars to television to the telephone the basic existence of man, in my eyes, is to advance both technologically, thus making life better for us all and also scientifically. Man wants to know all we want to be able to answer all the questions out there as every day goes by we get closer and closer to answering some of our questions. Everyday new cures for diseases are found and also new diseases are discovered, new discoveries are made in various fields, at the same time however new problems are arising.
Man in every era has depended on some form of tool to help him to his tasks whatever they may be, a tool to make things easier. This tool is technology; technology does not have to be the modern thoughts of computers. Technology is “the science of technical processes in a wide, though related field of knowledge.” That is the definition given by The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language. So technology can be anything as long as it helps us advance. It can be anything like a plough to help a farmer, a television to help the media and the telephone to help us communicate. The latest technology of the 20th Century is the Internet and it has placed a great mark on our society. It is the new “place to be” where business can advance, people can interact worldwide at the click of a mouse and this has revolutionarily changed the world. In the world of the Internet there are millions of members worldwide and that means it is a very profitable arena. In an area where there is money there are criminals and that is where the modern criminals of the world are behind computer screens. They may be credible individuals in society and they could also be credible corporations and organizations that are finding a quick way to make money and by doing this they are breaking ethical rules of society (even though it is hard to determine the ethics of the internet) and one of these crimes is the violation of the privacy of others.
I have logged on to the internet and have felt safe, like anyone should that logs on to the net, that I am the only one viewing my mail or cruising the net, I feel like I am the only one that knows where I have been and that no one is tracking me. After all the things I have just mentioned only happen in the movies, they are Enemy of the State type of things, and it could not possibly happen to you am I right? Wrong. By holding this thought one is including themselves “in a large group of consumers, world-wide, who are unaware of the multitude of information they are placing on the World Wide Web, simply by using it as it was designed to be used. All it takes is a visit to any site to place personal information about yourself on the internet. (Buffalo University).
The best way, at least for me, to understand the Internet is not to view it as a one way street but instead as a two-way road. The one way view of the internet is that it provides us with information and entertainment, this is what many people use the internet for and that is the one way view they maintain though it is not wrong there is more to it. That is where the two way view comes into effect while an individual is surfing the net the people that maintain the web sites are also getting information that information is on you. It is a two way street because you get what you want and they get what they want, which side gets the more information is very debatable, solely on the premise on how much you treasure your privacy.
It is disturbing to know that one can be tracked all over the World Wide Web just from their mouse clicks. This may be happening to many of us, our browser alone gives as away simply. Just from our browser someone who wants to can find out could probably find out “which computer you are coming from, what software and hardware you are using, details of the link you clicked on, and possibly even your email address (junkbusters.com)” This is a lot of information about us that we may not want out there. Our browser is giving all this information out through cookies. “A cookie is a unique identifier that a web server places on your computer: a serial number for you personally that can be used to retrieve your records from their databases. It’s usually a string of random looking letters long enough to be unique (www.junkbusters.com).” This is a very bad thing that destroys the founding of privacy if you cannot surf the Internet without half the consumer-retailing world knowing about, that is a very horrible thought.
When I view a particular page that is of interest to me and I want to some more information on the products they offer I usually fill an on-site registration form, along with me so do many users of the Internet. By providing the information to the company I am under the assumption that they will send the information I need to me and that they are under an ethical code to respect my privacy. Well in the world of the Internet, and in this day and age ethics might as well be a dream. The forms we fill online may ask for basic information like my name, address, phone number and email address and maybe my personal interests, however the sad part is that all this information is most likely being gathered for marketing purposes. It is often sold to other interested parties willing to buy my information along with those of hundreds of others, so that they may push their products upon them.
There are companies emerging over the Internet that can get almost any piece of information on you that you hold dear to your self. The Internet has unleashed a new beast, a beast that has no name but that has no respect for privacy. If tomorrow morning the United States Postal Service announced that all mail had to be sent in a clear envelope there would be a huge ruckus. That would involve everyone from a custodian to the president of a major organization; this is because we all have something that is private to us that we do not want strangers to know about. What is very disturbing is “when it comes to protecting your privacy, banks and brokerage firms tend to squirm. By law they must record Social Security number, the marker that can unlock the data in all too many other accounts (Forbes pg. 187).” If your money is not safe, if one knows how much money you have in this society then you are at a disadvantage. In this society I feel every thing is measured by the contents of your bank account, to achieve the dream many work hours and hours upon end to make ends meet and to have all their labors exposed to the whole world can be a very painful thing.
While researching this paper I came across an interesting article done by MSNBC it was about a man named Glen Roberts who lives in Oil City which is in northwestern Pennsylvania. Mr. Roberts had obtained through legal means, thanks to the Internet and to be more specific the electronic Congressional Record to obtain the social security numbers of prominent members of the United States military. He then displayed these numbers on his site to display to the world how insecure the Internet was. “This is not some secret military document that someone hacked into, and these are not the Pentagon Papers,” Roberts said. “This is information that is put into public libraries all across the country with taxpayer dollars” (www.msnbc.com). After reading the article on he MSNBC website I searched for Mr. Glen Roberts page and found it. From there I was able to discover the social security numbers of many prominent members in our society including. General Colin L. Powell who’s social security number is 113-28-4024 and Bill Gates who’s social security number is 539-60-5125. These were all available from his Internet address: http://www.glr.com/media
After viewing the contents of this website I thought to my self if the numbers of prominent members of society are openly available to many then what would prevent the numbers of normal civilians from being available. Many experts agree that once you have the social security number of an individual you have the key to their whole life. No safeguards are being taken to adequately protected. The Internet in my opinion is a young domain and many are taking advantage of it by breaking strict moral and ethical values.
To prove my point on how insecure the internet was and how the privacy of others were not being protected I took the liberty of finding out what information I could find on Mark Preut. He is my Debate coach and also American Government teacher, in one minute (I timed myself) I came up with was his address, phone number, map of the town he lived in. If I had looked on further I know I could have found more but then I would be contradicting my self on the matter of privacy.
The Internet is a dangerous place we need to be careful. It is understandable that the founding fathers did not take into account the invention of the Internet let alone the computer. However they did believe in a sense of privacy that sense of privacy has not been applied by this government. To that matter it has not been applied to any other government which has control over events on the World Wide Web. It is a shame there is no little or no privacy in this new world created by man, the world known as cyberspace.
Filed Under: Internet, Internet Safety, Science & Technology