Internet privacy is dead -- film at 11By Robert X. CringelyCreated 2013-03-18 12:24PM
Notice that funky smell? That's your privacy, putrefying on your browser's doorstep.
In an essay published last Saturday by CNN titled "The Internet is a surveillance state ," noted security wonk Bruce Schneier pronounced Internet privacy as dead as the proverbial doornail. Schneier says you can thank corporations and a government that are fiending for data, which the Internet exudes in copious amounts.
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Schneier uses three recent examples -- Chinese military hackers , Anonymous' Sabu , and David Petraeus' ex-snuggle bunny Paula Broadwell  -- to prove that privacy is dead. All of them were experts at erasing their tracks across the Net; all of them got nailed anyway. He writes:
Increasingly, what we do on the Internet is being combined with other data about us. Unmasking Broadwell's identity involved correlating her Internet activity with her hotel stays. Everything we do now involves computers, and computers produce data as a natural by-product. Everything is now being saved and correlated, and many big-data companies make money by building up intimate profiles  of our lives from a variety of sources....
This is ubiquitous surveillance : All of us being watched , all the time, and that data being stored forever. This is what a surveillance state looks like, and it's efficient beyond the wildest dreams of George Orwell.
Unlike a lot of people who've sounded privacy's death knell, Schneier is no shmoe  who's only interested in selling your data. The creator of several commonly used encryption algorithms and founder of CounterPane Security, Schneier was named one of InfoWorld's top 25 CTOs in 2005 . He's published numerous books and is a popular speaker on privacy and security. He's also the subject of a Chuck Norris-style Internet meme .
The straight dope from Schneier
In other words, Schneier knows of what he speaks. And for many years he has advocated for an unequivocal right to privacy, as in this 2006 essay  he wrote originally for Wired. It's worth a read. Here's a small snippet:
Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect... Watch someone long enough, and you'll find something to arrest -- or just blackmail -- with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies -- whoever they happen to be at the time.
Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we're doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.
His pronouncement that privacy is now DOA carries more weight than most. The essay is so utterly devoid of hope that I asked him via email if that's what he truly believed. His reply:
Basically, yes. Privacy is dead. Everything we now do involves computers. Computers collect data as a natural side-effect of their operation. That data is being collected and saved, and is being used to track us.
In that case, I persisted, do we have any recourse? Surely there's something we could do? His response didn't get any better.
None, really. Agitate for better laws. And good luck with that.
Good luck indeed. As he notes in his essay, "Fixing this requires strong government will, but they're just as punch-drunk on data as the corporations. Slap-on-the-wrist fines notwithstanding, no one is agitating for better privacy laws."
What Schneier is really saying, I think, is that we desperately need privacy legislation that draws a line in the sand around the data that defines us. But with Congress acting like chimpanzees who spend all day every day throwing feces at one another, it ain't gonna happen. Thus, it's party time for Web snoops, spring break for data mining corporations, one huge drunken bender for Johnny Law and his cellphone tracking habit. Call it Internet spooks gone wild.
No one is safe
I don't think the situation is quite as hopeless as Schneier lays out in his essay, but it's close. I think privacy is increasingly becoming something only the extremely geeky or the very rich can afford.
If you have enough money, you can effectively shield yourself from many privacy intrusions. You can operate in relative anonymity behind shell corporations and legal proxies. If you're a geek, you can use Net proxies, anonymizers, and encryption to obscure your activities.
But even those barriers are no guarantees. Just ask the very rich, very famous people whose personal finances were hacked  and buttered all over the InterWebs last week. Or ping Sabu and the numerous former comrades he's been helping the FBI roll up one at a time.
I for one am unwilling to roll over and give up, or to pull a Kaczynski  and hole up off the grid in some backwoods cabin. I think there are things we can and should do to hold on to the shreds of privacy we have left. That's the subject for a future post. But first I want to hear from you.
Is privacy really dead? If so, what should we do to resuscitate it? What do you do to protect yourself? Post your thoughts below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org .
This article, "Internet privacy is dead -- film at 11 ," was originally published at InfoWorld.com . Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog , and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter .
Source URL (retrieved on 2013-03-24 11:09PM): http://www.infoworld.com/t/cringely/internet-privacy-dead-film-11-214737
Monday, March 25, 2013
Internet privacy is dead -- film at 11