Have you ever Binged or Googled for your own name, address or phone number? It’s good to do it now and then, and the result may be shocking. You don’t have to be a celebrity to be mentioned on the net. Most of us occur on the net in quite many places, often a lot more than we imagine.
You can decide how much you reveal to the public in the profiles of your own accounts. But that’s not the full picture. Every time you participate in something under your own name, it may be published on the net, with or without your consent. This kind of publicity is hard to track, and next to impossible to control.
This is what the European court of justice (ECJ) tried to control in a ruling in May 2014. In short, a man from Spain found previously published data to be embarrassing and outdated. The site refused to take down the data and Spanish authorities ruled that there was no legal ground to demand deletion of the lawfully published content. The European court did however rule in favor of him and demanded Google to hide these pages in search results. According to the court, Google has to delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from search results.
I’m an advocate of digital privacy and our rights to control our digital footprint. And this is sort of a win for privacy-fighters. But I have mixed feelings about this decision and will not open any sparkling bottles. I think the track that ECJ has entered will turn out to be a dead end.
First of all, trying to create ways to control net content is good. We are dealing with a delicate balance between freedom of speech and peoples’ right to privacy. But most of us probably agree that a net totally without content control isn’t desirable.
But trying to solve this problem with the search engine companies is like creating a giant reality distortion field. The data does not go anywhere even if it’s hidden in Google searches. As a matter of fact, all you have to do is to use a non-European version of Google. And that’s not all. Google is even planning to inform users that items have been hidden from the search result they are viewing. Convenient with a reminder that you should search again with the US version, isn’t it?
Search engines are of great importance for what pages we find and read. But many are probably overestimating this importance now when social media is getting more popular. Nowadays we do not only find our stuff by searching, a significant part is virally spreading links. These links also bypass the reality distortion field totally.
The right to be forgotten is a great principle. But I think it should be restricted to the actual content and not services that help you find it. What we need is a globally working system for content take-down requests. These requests need to be approved by some kind of authority and the system must have built-in safeguards against misuse for censorship. Yes, keep in mind the delicate balance between freedom of speech and privacy. The neutrality of search engines should at the same time be controlled and guaranteed. If something is wrong, let’s fix reality instead of creating a reality distortion field.
Congratulations anyway to Mario Costeja González who won the case against Google. That’s an achievement even if the outcome is questionable. And the funny thing is naturally that you would have no clue who Mario Costeja González is, and that his house had to be sold to pay debts, without this thing called right to be forgotten.
BTW, if your search turned up something you don’t like and you are a European citizen, then you can continue to Googles removal process. We don’t know yet how this will work when the masses start to request removals. The process will probably be an uphill battle, so don’t hold your breath. It will be interesting to see how this develops.
Image by stockimages @ freedigitalphotos.net
The recent statements from FBI director James Comey is yet another example of the authorities’ opportunistic approach to surveillance. He dislikes the fact that mobile operating systems from Google and Apple now come with strong encryption for data stored on the device. This security feature is naturally essential when you lose your device or if you are a potential espionage target. But the authorities do not like it as it makes investigations harder. What he said was basically that there should be a method for authorities to access data in mobile devices with a proper warrant. This would be needed to effectively fight crime. Going on to list some hated crime types, murder, child abuse, terrorism and so on. And yes, this might at first sound OK. Until you start thinking about it. Let’s translate Comey’s statement into ordinary non-obfuscated English. This is what he really said: “I, James Comey, director of FBI, want every person world-wide to carry a tracking device at all times. This device shall collect the owner’s electronic communications and be able to open cloud services where data is stored. The content of these tracking devices shall on request be made available to the US authorities. We don’t care if this weakens your security, and you shouldn’t care because our goals are more important than your privacy.” Yes, that’s what we are talking about here. The “tracking devices” are of course our mobile phones and other digital gadgets. Our digital lives are already accurate mirrors of our actual lives. Our gadgets do not only contain actual data, they are also a gate to the cloud services because they store passwords. Granting FBI access to mobile devices does not only reveal data on the device. It also opens up all the user’s cloud services, regardless of if they are within US jurisdiction or not. In short. Comey want to put a black box in the pocket of every citizen world-wide. Black boxes that record flight data and communications are justified in cockpits, not in ordinary peoples’ private lives. But wait. What if they really could solve crimes this way? Yes, there would probably be a handful of cases where data gathered this way is crucial. At least enough to make fancy PR and publically show how important it is for the authorities to have access to private data. But even proposing weakening the security of commonly and globally used operating systems is a sign of gross negligence against peoples’ right to security and privacy. The risk is magnitudes bigger than the upside. Comey was diffuse when talking about examples of cases solved using device data. But the history is full of cases solved *without* data from smart devices. Well, just a decade ago we didn’t even have this kind of tracking devices. And the police did succeed in catching murderers and other criminals despite that. You can also today select to not use a smartphone, and thus drop the FBI-tracker. That is your right and you do not break any laws by doing so. Many security-aware criminals are probably operating this way, and many more would if Comey gets what he wants. So it’s very obvious that the FBI must have capability to investigate crime even without turning every phone into a black box. Comey’s proposal is just purely opportunistic, he wants this data because it exists. Not because he really needs it. Safe surfing, Micke
The issue of mass government surveillance may have taken a back seat to other headlines lately, but the new Edward Snowden documentary is bringing it to light once more. CITIZENFOUR, the Laura Poitras film documenting the moments Edward Snowden handed over classified documents detailing the mass indiscriminate and illegal invasions of privacy by the US's National Security Agency, is getting rave reviews ahead of its world premiere. The film is already prescreening in the UK, and along with that, F-Secure's UK office is publishing a research report that highlights the growing concern of the public - specifically, the British public - with mass surveillance. The ‘Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear?’ report centers on the concern about surveillance being undertaken by the British government on its own people, as well as foreign nationals. The concerns are justified, as Snowden himself in recent comments warned that the British Government is even worse than its American counterparts, since the founding fathers of the US enshrined in law certain rights which the Brits – with no written constitution – cannot claim. Research* commissioned for the report shows that 86% of Brits do not agree with mass surveillance. Snowden’s leaks last year highlighted the extent to which Western intelligence agencies are snooping on the general populace, including their emails, phone calls, web searches, social media interactions and geo-location. And when you consider the fact that the UK has 5.9 million closed-circuit TV cameras (one for every 11 people, as opposed to one informant per 65 people in the Stasi-controlled East German state), the extent to which Britain has fallen into being a surveillance state becomes shockingly clear. The UK government, of course, insists that indiscriminate surveillance will protect national security. However, the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) contravenes Article 12 of the Human Rights Act: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.” “We are in unchartered territory and we appear to have sleepwalked here,” said Allen Scott, managing director of F-Secure UK & Ireland. “Little by little, our rights to privacy have been eroded and many people don’t even realise the extent to which they are being monitored. This isn’t targeted surveillance of suspected criminals and terrorists – this is monitoring the lives of the population as a whole.” With the future use of this data uncertain, the British people are showing their concerns. The research showed that 78% of respondents are concerned with the consequences of having their data tracked. This concern will only increase as more privacy-infringing schemes pervade UK government departments, offering up more personal data for GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, to use. Be sure to check out CITIZENFOUR once it hits your part of the world. And if you're in the UK, you can be among the first to see it – see pre-screening venues here: https://citizenfourfilm.com/ READ THE REPORT: Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear? See more of what Brits think about surveillance in our infographic: *Research conducted by Vital Research & Statistics on behalf of F-Secure. 2,000 adult respondents. 10-13th October 2014.
Is this China's digital riot police? A "particularly remarkable advanced persistent threat" has been compromising websites in Hong Kong and Japan for months, according to Volexity. The pro-democratic sites that have been infected include "Alliance for True Democracy – Hong Kong" and "People Power – Hong Kong" along with several others identified with the Occupy Central and Umbrella Revolution student movements behind the massive protests against the Chinese government. Visitors to the sites are being targeted by malware designed for "exploitation, compromise, and digital surveillance". In an analysis on our Labs Blog, Micke notes that it's possible that cybercriminals could be simply piggybacking on the news without any political motivation. However, the Remote Access Trojans (RATs) being used could provide serious advantages to political opponents of the movement. "A lot of the visitors on these sites are involved in the movement somehow, either as leaders or at grassroot level," he writes. "Their enemy could gain a lot of valuable information by planting RATs even in a small fraction of these peoples’ devices." And even leaders aren't compromised, the publicity around the attack will drive users away from the sites. This is a tactic that would definitely benefit those who want these see protests to end ASAP. And it would be a far more effective tactic if not for social networks like Twitter that can be accessed to plan resistance,even if the government blocks them -- as long as you have a VPN solution like our Freedome. If the goal is to cripple the protests by targeting protesters, "you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that China is the prime suspect," Micke writes. The significance a state-sponsored RAT attack -- or even a state-condoned attack carried out by privateers -- would be immense. Criminals use malware to target individuals, businesses and governments themselves. Government-sponsored cyberattacks on citizens practicing civil disobedience could be considered an escalation beyond even likely government-sponsored surveillance malware like Flame, which forces businesses to consider malware attacks from their own governments. Over the last year we've learned just how far suspicious governments will go to play defense against internet users who haven't been accused of any crime. Now we're seeing hints that a government may be willing to play offense too.