Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Internet Privacy musings.

My friends know very well that I am the type of person who easily falls into ranting about things that annoy me (I claim it shows my passion). I to temper myself, especially on my blog. This prevents me blogging on a lot of topics. When I first learned about the UK governments plans to have a giant database storing lots of information about peoples emails, web browsing habits and so on I was really really cross. I am glad to read that the "plans" are much less sure than I originally thought.

Some of the comments made by Lord West got me thinking. He is quoted as saying:

"People must realise - and I used to say this within the Navy - there will be more people look at your Internet information than look at a postcard when you write it,"

"People tend to forget that - and [that] it is used for quite legal purposes, some of it."

I think he misses the point, the fact that ISP's and the like look at this information, is a separate issue from whether or not they should look at the data. In my view the content of an HTTP request should be read by two people. The web server, and the web browser. Anyone in between only needs to look at the TCP/IP headers. The post card analogy was the one that got me most. I think most people would agree that while a postman can read both the address and the content of a post card, he should in fact not do so. Reading it would be an invasion of privacy. The same goes for letters. While Royal Mail can open letters doing so is a last resort wen attempting to deliver mail and they do not, and cannot make money from the content.

So why do we accept it when applied to out network traffic. I think the answer is we do not understand well enough the concepts to realize what we are giving away, or allowing to occur. This needs to change. We need new metaphors for this that help people understand the privacy issues. We then need to ensure that either companies cannot make use the data they transport for monetary gain, or that opt-outs are provided.


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