Tag: Internet

Internet Privacy and National Security: The Pursuit for Perfect Balance

On the backdrop of the recent celebrity private photo leak, the debate on Internet privacy and personal information secrecy heated up again. The concern for privacy on the Internet originated from the beginning of computer networking. However, the definition of Internet privacy is not so straightforward. Basically, Internet privacy can be of two forms. PrivacyOne form is called “Personally Identifying Information (PII)” and the other form is called non-PII information. In case of PII, personal identifying information such as, age, gender, name, phone number, email address, etc. are considered as private information. In terms of non-PII, users’ website visiting information, tracking, cookies, etc., which do not directly disclose their personal information are collected. These PII and non-PII information can be easily hunt down using modern online tracking software. Experts also argued that privacy no longer exists, “Privacy is dead”. 5816482161_9679562278_oSome also suggested that the attraction of online services is to deliberately broadcast personal information on purpose.

The issue became controversial when National Security Agency (NSA) was empowered with warrantless surveillance after the deadly 9/11 attack. kjhbUnder this program, NSA was authorized by executive order to monitor the phone calls, Internet activity, text messaging, and other communication involving any party believed by the NSA to be outside the U.S., even if the other end of the communication lies within the U.S. Critics, however, claimed that the program was in an effort to silence critics of the then Bush Administration and its handling of several controversial issues during its tenure. Under serious criticism from publics and activist groups, the Bush administration purportedly terminated the warrantless “tapping” program in January 2007 and returned review of surveillance to the court. In 2008, Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which relaxed some of the original FISA court requirements.

The privacy/surveillance argument was further fueled when a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) IT contractor Edward Snowden, leaked a massive number of classified NSA global surveillance programs’ documents to the mainstream media. internet-privacyThese leaked documents revealed that NSA and the Five Eyes with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments was running massive undercover global surveillance programs over the years. This scenario made Snowden both a national hero and a traitor at the same time. Regardless of the fact of those leaked documents, this event created pressure on government agencies and tech giants to disclose their privacy policy and clear their stances on Internet privacy of personal information.

internet_explores_you_by_theaitetos-d6wq5fuAfter the terrorist attack of 9/11, the debate on privacy and national security was highlighted again. A group of activists strongly criticized the surveillance programs undertaken by NSA, CIA and other government agencies, whereas other group of people supported these programs on the ground that these surveillance programs are actually keeping ourselves safe from terrorists and online criminals. International security expert John Mueller argued that the immediate fear and anger generated after the 9/11 attacks allowed the construction of a surveillance system that has remained mostly hidden from public scrutiny and public opinion. In his research, Mueller has calculated the increased cost of domestic security operations at more than $1 trillion since Sept. 11, with little scrutiny, oversight or evaluation to determine whether they’re actually making Americans safer. Mueller said that surveillance is needed for national security. But there should be an acceptable balance among surveillance, transparency, and privacy. The latest celebrity nude photo hacking attracted much attention form the Internet privacy activists and the general publics. About five weeks ago, a group of unidentified hackers leaked thousands of nude and intimate photos of more than hundred celebrities. These photos were allegedly hacked from the celebrities’ iCloud accounts. Identity TheftHowever, Apple denied the attack and claimed that iCloud is safe if you use “strong password”. Nevertheless, this major event generated huge anger and fear among celebrities and the general people, pointing out the fact that nobody’s personal information is safe on the Internet. Furthermore, privacy advocates strongly criticized government surveillance agencies for their incompetence on finding out the criminals. These agencies are accused of secretly spying on public information, but they are unable to finding the groups behind this massive hacking, even after a month. Tech giant Google is also on the brink of facing a law suit for not taking actions to remove those hacked private photos from their database. Recent report revealed that these leaked photos with thousands of unpublished celebrity photos are being sold in the online marketplace.

National security and public safety are the issues that should not be Stop-this-right-nowcompromised under any circumstances. Nonetheless, exaggerated surveillance efforts on the public without their concern is also not accepted in the modern society. Beside these surveillance programs, government agencies should be also strong enough in preventing cybercrime and Internet privacy theft. Recent massive photo hack showed that our information is not safe online. It is also not an issue of “leaking” or “scandal’, rather it is a “sex crime”, as mentioned by Oscar winner actress Jennifer Lawrence, who is also one of the victims of that event. It is always hard to find a perfect balance between security and privacy but strong law can make it happen in the future. Government agencies are responsible for maintaining such balance and bringing back public trust on their surveillance programs.

BONUS: 5 tips for staying safe on the web

Net Neutrality Debate: Is the Internet a Public Utility?

When I am writing this blog, thousands of companies, organizations and individuals are observing the “Internet Slowdown Day”, demanding for a free and unbiased internet for all. Companies and organizations from different sectors have joined forces to fight against the discriminatory policy of the giant ISPs. This movement is claiming that giant cable companies (Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable & AT&T) are charging more money for their poor service. Several rank as the most hated companies in America. They are also consolidating their utmost control over the Internet. These big ISP are accused of charging higher mandatory fees to the small and medium enterprises without any added services. If anybody doesn’t pay that fees, Internet speed is slowed down, which makes the Internet “dead” for them.

But the very first question that pops up in the mind of a common person, what actually net neutrality is. Net neutrality (aka network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is defined as the standard that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally. Internet service providers cannot discriminate or charge differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication. Domain registry company “Namecheap” stated, “Net neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet, the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all data equally.” The term was initially proposed by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu in 2003. Advocates consider net neutrality as an important component of an open Internet, where policies such as equal treatment of data and open web standards allow those on the Internet to easily communicate and conduct business without interference from a third party. However, a “closed Internet” refers to the opposite situation, in which established corporations or governments favor certain uses. A closed Internet may have restricted access to necessary web standards, artificially degrade some services, or explicitly filter out content.

In the USA, net neutrality has been a very hot debated issue from early 2000. Cable companies are allegedly monopolizing the internet market and often blocking common services to the users at their own discretion. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is work4540678705_3817c0152b_oing on a new plan by which service providers will be able to charge more money for better and specialized service. But the interesting fact is that there is no legal restrictions on how access providers should give service to the users. There is also no rules regarding intentionally limiting or blocking Internet speed or content. But this is not only a legal issue anymore. It has become a concern whether free and open internet is a basic human right. Even president Obama also opposed the new rules that will make the giant companies benefited. Recently, president Obama said in a speech that big and wealthy companies may be willing to paying higher amount for faster Internet but small companies won’t. The president also said that an open Internet will allow for “the next Google or the next Facebook” to enter the industry, and become successful. Industry pioneers also showed their concerns over the issue. Inventor of the Internet Vint Cerf commented that “Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success…A number of justifications have been created to support carrier control over consumer choices online; none stand up to scrutiny.” Father of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee also said, “The neutral communications medium is essential to our society. It is the basis of a fair competitive market economy. It is the basis of democracy, by which a community should decide what to do. It is the basis of science, by which humankind should decide what is true. Let us protect the neutrality of the net.”

FCC got a major shock when they lost a lawsuit over the net neutrality issue. FCC had regulated the ISPs from contents based on discrimination. But Verizon challenged the policy and received a court ruling in favor of them that voided FCC’s policy. Since then, FCC has been criticized for its soft attitude toward the major service providers and being nonreactive toward public rights. Nevertheless, FCC had opened an inbox to receive comments on the issue, which they will use to revise their proposed plan. Till date, FCC has received more than 780,000 comments on that topic. The debate remains on the table as the victims of Internet monopoly have institutionalized their movement to a new level. 4890075994_31f15bd12e_oThey have launched massive campaign claiming that general mass are deprived of their rights due to the monopolistic attitude of the big brothers of the industry. The activist group declared 10th September as the “Internet Slowdown” day. This campaign gained huge popularity very quickly and it went viral on social networking sites. Millions of people supported in favor of the campaign and asked the federal government and FCC to take immediate actions to implement a neutral Internet. Supporters of the movement are arguing that Internet is a public utility and it should be regulated keeping that in mind.

On the other hand, another group is opposing the movement claiming that the situation is position “wrongly” to the public. They argue that most of the points of the debate are artificial, distracting, and based on an incorrect mental model on how the internet works. They are also claiming that the concept of “fast lane” and “slow lane” is not even true and this debate is such a waste of time. Another reason they put in favor of their argument is that the Internet operation system has changed radically recently and user growth is also increasing massively. Therefore, current scenario should not be compared with the past one. Internet giant Google is also alleged of discriminating service users based on their consumption size. However, Google authority had denied such allegations claiming that it was just a “myth”. They even said that they are actually standing in favor of net neutrality.

Net-NEutralityAs the issue heated up from last couple of years, tons of researches have been produced on the net neutrality topic. Some scholars argued that net neutrality should be considered a social problem and it should be solved with top priority. Stakeholder engagement is necessary to come up with possible suggestions. It has been also argued that blocking or slowing down the Internet is against freedom of speech and against the law. Moreover, federal government, law makers and FCC are fueling the battle for free Internet. There might be valid arguments on both sides of the debate, but using the public sentiment for this movement is making it more appealing. Sooner or later the government and the FCC has to come up with a solution that gives something to both the parties and make our Internet experience smoother.

BONUS: Infographic- Join the Action