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Paul Merrell

Spies and internet giants are in the same business: surveillance. But we can stop them ... - 0 views

  • On Tuesday, the European court of justice, Europe’s supreme court, lobbed a grenade into the cosy, quasi-monopolistic world of the giant American internet companies. It did so by declaring invalid a decision made by the European commission in 2000 that US companies complying with its “safe harbour privacy principles” would be allowed to transfer personal data from the EU to the US. This judgment may not strike you as a big deal. You may also think that it has nothing to do with you. Wrong on both counts, but to see why, some background might be useful. The key thing to understand is that European and American views about the protection of personal data are radically different. We Europeans are very hot on it, whereas our American friends are – how shall I put it? – more relaxed.
  • Given that personal data constitutes the fuel on which internet companies such as Google and Facebook run, this meant that their exponential growth in the US market was greatly facilitated by that country’s tolerant data-protection laws. Once these companies embarked on global expansion, however, things got stickier. It was clear that the exploitation of personal data that is the core business of these outfits would be more difficult in Europe, especially given that their cloud-computing architectures involved constantly shuttling their users’ data between server farms in different parts of the world. Since Europe is a big market and millions of its citizens wished to use Facebook et al, the European commission obligingly came up with the “safe harbour” idea, which allowed companies complying with its seven principles to process the personal data of European citizens. The circle having been thus neatly squared, Facebook and friends continued merrily on their progress towards world domination. But then in the summer of 2013, Edward Snowden broke cover and revealed what really goes on in the mysterious world of cloud computing. At which point, an Austrian Facebook user, one Maximilian Schrems, realising that some or all of the data he had entrusted to Facebook was being transferred from its Irish subsidiary to servers in the United States, lodged a complaint with the Irish data protection commissioner. Schrems argued that, in the light of the Snowden revelations, the law and practice of the United States did not offer sufficient protection against surveillance of the data transferred to that country by the government.
  • The Irish data commissioner rejected the complaint on the grounds that the European commission’s safe harbour decision meant that the US ensured an adequate level of protection of Schrems’s personal data. Schrems disagreed, the case went to the Irish high court and thence to the European court of justice. On Tuesday, the court decided that the safe harbour agreement was invalid. At which point the balloon went up. “This is,” writes Professor Lorna Woods, an expert on these matters, “a judgment with very far-reaching implications, not just for governments but for companies the business model of which is based on data flows. It reiterates the significance of data protection as a human right and underlines that protection must be at a high level.”
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  • This is classic lawyerly understatement. My hunch is that if you were to visit the legal departments of many internet companies today you would find people changing their underpants at regular intervals. For the big names of the search and social media worlds this is a nightmare scenario. For those of us who take a more detached view of their activities, however, it is an encouraging development. For one thing, it provides yet another confirmation of the sterling service that Snowden has rendered to civil society. His revelations have prompted a wide-ranging reassessment of where our dependence on networking technology has taken us and stimulated some long-overdue thinking about how we might reassert some measure of democratic control over that technology. Snowden has forced us into having conversations that we needed to have. Although his revelations are primarily about government surveillance, they also indirectly highlight the symbiotic relationship between the US National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ on the one hand and the giant internet companies on the other. For, in the end, both the intelligence agencies and the tech companies are in the same business, namely surveillance.
  • And both groups, oddly enough, provide the same kind of justification for what they do: that their surveillance is both necessary (for national security in the case of governments, for economic viability in the case of the companies) and conducted within the law. We need to test both justifications and the great thing about the European court of justice judgment is that it starts us off on that conversation.
Paul Merrell

LEAKED: Secret Negotiations to Let Big Brother Go Global | Wolf Street - 0 views

  • Much has been written, at least in the alternative media, about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), two multilateral trade treaties being negotiated between the representatives of dozens of national governments and armies of corporate lawyers and lobbyists (on which you can read more here, here and here). However, much less is known about the decidedly more secretive Trade in Services Act (TiSA), which involves more countries than either of the other two. At least until now, that is. Thanks to a leaked document jointly published by the Associated Whistleblowing Press and Filtrala, the potential ramifications of the treaty being hashed out behind hermetically sealed doors in Geneva are finally seeping out into the public arena.
  • If signed, the treaty would affect all services ranging from electronic transactions and data flow, to veterinary and architecture services. It would almost certainly open the floodgates to the final wave of privatization of public services, including the provision of healthcare, education and water. Meanwhile, already privatized companies would be prevented from a re-transfer to the public sector by a so-called barring “ratchet clause” – even if the privatization failed. More worrisome still, the proposal stipulates that no participating state can stop the use, storage and exchange of personal data relating to their territorial base. Here’s more from Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary of Public Services International (PSI):
  • The leaked documents confirm our worst fears that TiSA is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth (…) Negotiation of unrestricted data movement, internet neutrality and how electronic signatures can be used strike at the heart of individuals’ rights. Governments must come clean about what they are negotiating in these secret trade deals. Fat chance of that, especially in light of the fact that the text is designed to be almost impossible to repeal, and is to be “considered confidential” for five years after being signed. What that effectively means is that the U.S. approach to data protection (read: virtually non-existent) could very soon become the norm across 50 countries spanning the breadth and depth of the industrial world.
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  • The main players in the top-secret negotiations are the United States and all 28 members of the European Union. However, the broad scope of the treaty also includes Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey. Combined they represent almost 70 percent of all trade in services worldwide. An explicit goal of the TiSA negotiations is to overcome the exceptions in GATS that protect certain non-tariff trade barriers, such as data protection. For example, the draft Financial Services Annex of TiSA, published by Wikileaks in June 2014, would allow financial institutions, such as banks, the free transfer of data, including personal data, from one country to another. As Ralf Bendrath, a senior policy advisor to the MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, writes in State Watch, this would constitute a radical carve-out from current European data protection rules:
Paul Merrell

Utah lawmaker questions city water going to NSA - 0 views

  • SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah lawmaker concerned about government spying on its citizens is questioning whether city water service should be cut off to a massive National Security Agency data storage facility outside Salt Lake City.Republican Rep. Marc Roberts, of Santaquin, said there are serious questions about privacy and surveillance surrounding the center, and several Utah residents who spoke at a legislative committee hearing Wednesday agreed.During the last legislative session, lawmakers opted to hold off on Roberts' bill to shut off the facility's water and decided to study it during the interim."This is not a bill just about a data center. This is a bill about civil rights," web developer Joe Levi said. "This is a bill that needs to be taken up and needs to be taken seriously."Pete Ashdown, founder of Salt Lake City-based Internet provider XMission, called the center a stain upon the state and its technology industry. "I do encourage you to stand up and do something about it," he said.Lawmakers said they aren't considering shutting down $1.7 billion facility, but the committee chair acknowledged the concerns and said there might be another way to get the point across. "We may look at some type of a strong message to give our representatives to take back to Congress," said Republican Sen. David Hinkins, of Orangeville.
  • The NSA's largest data storage center in the U.S. was built in Utah over 37 other locations because of open land and cheap electricity. The center sits on a National Guard base about 25 miles south of Salt Lake City in the town of Bluffdale.NSA officials said the center is key to protecting national security networks and allowing U.S. authorities to watch for cyber threats. Beyond that, the agency has offered few details.The center attracted much discussion and concern after revelations last year that the NSA has been collecting millions of U.S. phone records and digital communications stored by major Internet providers.
  • Cybersecurity experts say the nondescript Utah facility is a giant storehouse for phone calls, emails and online records that have been secretly collected.Outside the computer storehouses are large coolers that keep the machines from overheating. The coolers use large amounts of water, which the nearby city of Bluffdale sells to the center at a discounted rate.City records released earlier this year showed monthly water use was much less than the 1 million gallons a day that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted the center would need, causing some to wonder if the center was fully operational.NSA officials have refused to say if the center is up and running after its scheduled opening in October 2013 was stalled by electrical problems.City utility records showed the NSA has been making monthly minimum payments of about $30,000 to Bluffdale. The city manager said that pays for more water than the center used.The state of Nevada shut off water to the site of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in 2002, after months of threats.The project didn't run dry because the Energy Department built a 1-million-gallon tank and a small well for the site. Department officials said the stored water, plus 400,000 gallons stored in other tanks at the Nevada Test Site, provided time for scientists to continue experiments and design work at the site.
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  • SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah lawmaker concerned about government spying on its citizens is questioning whether city water service should be cut off to a massive National Security Agency data storage facility outside Salt Lake City.Rep
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    Hey, go for their electricity too! But what do we do with the Bluffdale facility after we abolish the NSA? Turn it over to Internet Archives, with a $1 billion endowment for maintenance? Free and permanent web sites for everyone?  
Paul Merrell

American Surveillance Now Threatens American Business - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • What does it look like when a society loses its sense of privacy? <div><a href="http://pubads.g.doubleclick.net/gampad/jump?iu=%2F4624%2FTheAtlanticOnline%2Fchannel_technology&t=src%3Dblog%26by%3Drobinson-meyer%26title%3Damerican-surveillance-now-threatens-american-business%26pos%3Din-article&sz=300x250&c=285899172&tile=1" title=""><img style="border:none;" src="http://pubads.g.doubleclick.net/gampad/ad?iu=%2F4624%2FTheAtlanticOnline%2Fchannel_technology&t=src%3Dblog%26by%3Drobinson-meyer%26title%3Damerican-surveillance-now-threatens-american-business%26pos%3Din-article&sz=300x250&c=285899172&tile=1" alt="" /></a></div>In the almost 18 months since the Snowden files first received coverage, writers and critics have had to guess at the answer. Does a certain trend, consumer complaint, or popular product epitomize some larger shift? Is trust in tech companies eroding—or is a subset just especially vocal about it? Polling would make those answers clear, but polling so far has been… confused. A new study, conducted by the Pew Internet Project last January and released last week, helps make the average American’s view of his or her privacy a little clearer. And their confidence in their own privacy is ... low. The study's findings—and the statistics it reports—stagger. Vast majorities of Americans are uncomfortable with how the government uses their data, how private companies use and distribute their data, and what the government does to regulate those companies. No summary can equal a recounting of the findings. Americans are displeased with government surveillance en masse:   
  • A new study finds that a vast majority of Americans trust neither the government nor tech companies with their personal data.
  • What does it look like when a society loses its sense of privacy? <div><a href="http://pubads.g.doubleclick.net/gampad/jump?iu=%2F4624%2FTheAtlanticOnline%2Fchannel_technology&t=src%3Dblog%26by%3Drobinson-meyer%26title%3Damerican-surveillance-now-threatens-american-business%26pos%3Din-article&sz=300x250&c=285899172&tile=1" title=""><img style="border:none;" src="http://pubads.g.doubleclick.net/gampad/ad?iu=%2F4624%2FTheAtlanticOnline%2Fchannel_technology&t=src%3Dblog%26by%3Drobinson-meyer%26title%3Damerican-surveillance-now-threatens-american-business%26pos%3Din-article&sz=300x250&c=285899172&tile=1" alt="" /></a></div>In the almost 18 months since the Snowden files first received coverage, writers and critics have had to guess at the answer. Does a certain trend, consumer complaint, or popular product epitomize some larger shift? Is trust in tech companies eroding—or is a subset just especially vocal about it? Polling would make those answers clear, but polling so far has been… confused. A new study, conducted by the Pew Internet Project last January and released last week, helps make the average American’s view of his or her privacy a little clearer. And their confidence in their own privacy is ... low. The study's findings—and the statistics it reports—stagger. Vast majorities of Americans are uncomfortable with how the government uses their data, how private companies use and distribute their data, and what the government does to regulate those companies. No summary can equal a recounting of the findings. Americans are displeased with government surveillance en masse:   
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  • According to the study, 70 percent of Americans are “at least somewhat concerned” with the government secretly obtaining information they post to social networking sites. Eighty percent of respondents agreed that “Americans should be concerned” with government surveillance of telephones and the web. They are also uncomfortable with how private corporations use their data: Ninety-one percent of Americans believe that “consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies,” according to the study. Eighty percent of Americans who use social networks “say they are concerned about third parties like advertisers or businesses accessing the data they share on these sites.” And even though they’re squeamish about the government’s use of data, they want it to regulate tech companies and data brokers more strictly: 64 percent wanted the government to do more to regulate private data collection. Since June 2013, American politicians and corporate leaders have fretted over how much the leaks would cost U.S. businesses abroad.
  • “It’s clear the global community of Internet users doesn’t like to be caught up in the American surveillance dragnet,” Senator Ron Wyden said last month. At the same event, Google chairman Eric Schmidt agreed with him. “What occurred was a loss of trust between America and other countries,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It's making it very difficult for American firms to do business.” But never mind the world. Americans don’t trust American social networks. More than half of the poll’s respondents said that social networks were “not at all secure. Only 40 percent of Americans believe email or texting is at least “somewhat” secure. Indeed, Americans trusted most of all communication technologies where some protections has been enshrined into the law (though the report didn’t ask about snail mail). That is: Talking on the telephone, whether on a landline or cell phone, is the only kind of communication that a majority of adults believe to be “very secure” or “somewhat secure.”
  • (That may seem a bit incongruous, because making a telephone call is one area where you can be almost sure you are being surveilled: The government has requisitioned mass call records from phone companies since 2001. But Americans appear, when discussing security, to differentiate between the contents of the call and data about it.) Last month, Ramsey Homsany, the general counsel of Dropbox, said that one big thing could take down the California tech scene. “We have built this incredible economic engine in this region of the country,” said Homsany in the Los Angeles Times, “and [mistrust] is the one thing that starts to rot it from the inside out.” According to this poll, the mistrust has already begun corroding—and is already, in fact, well advanced. We’ve always assumed that the great hurt to American business will come globally—that citizens of other nations will stop using tech companies’s services. But the new Pew data shows that Americans suspect American businesses just as much. And while, unlike citizens of other nations, they may not have other places to turn, they may stop putting sensitive or delicate information online.
Paul Merrell

DailyDot - 0 views

  • Experts and sources with knowledge of the situation say the most controversial Internet bill of the year, the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), is already dead in the water. That's good news for the millions worldwide who have formally registered their opposition to the bill. Designed to help the U.S. fight online attacks, CISPA would make it easier for corporations that are hacked to pass what they know to government agencies—including, critics say, swaths of your private information that would otherwise be protected by law. But though CISPA resoundingly passed the House of Representatives April 18, "it is extremely unlikely for the Senate" to vote on the bill," the ACLU's Michelle Richardson told the Daily Dot.
  • A Senate committee aide, who requested to not be named, told the Daily Dot that "there is no possible plan to bring up CISPA," in the Senate. The aide cited the fact that the Senate tried to pass its own cybersecurity bill, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (CSA). While unsuccessful, it underscored a desire for legislation that took more explicit efforts to protect individuals' Internet privacy. "There are just too many problems with it," the aide said of CISPA. This is backed up by U.S. News and World Report, which has reported that a staffer on the Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation explicitly claims CISPA is no longer a possibility, and senators are "drafting separate bills" to include some CISPA provisions.
Paul Merrell

Spooked By Lax U.S. Data Privacy, European Firms Build Their Own Cloud Services - 2 views

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    Draconian post-9/11 U.S. government surveillance statutes will cost U.S. economy as customers shop for cloud services elsewhere.  
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