Security technologist Bruce Schneier has an opinion column at CNN that discusses the issues of privacy and surveillance on the Internet. He’s pessimistic and believes: “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.” I agree that the state of surveillance and privacy in the United States and the world is dismal for those seeking strong privacy and civil liberty rights, but I will continue to be part of the advocate groups that agitate for better privacy laws and stronger protections against surveillance by companies or the government. It continues to be a tough fight, but not one I’m willing to concede has been lost. Schneier writes:
I’m going to start with three data points.
One: Some of the Chinese military hackers who were implicated in a broad set of attacks against the U.S. government and corporations were identified because they accessed Facebook from the same network infrastructure they used to carry out their attacks.
Two: Hector Monsegur, one of the leaders of the LulzSac hacker movement, was identified and arrested last year by the FBI. Although he practiced good computer security and used an anonymous relay service to protect his identity, he slipped up.
And three: Paula Broadwell, who had an affair with CIA director David Petraeus, similarly took extensive precautions to hide her identity. She never logged in to her anonymous e-mail service from her home network. Instead, she used hotel and other public networks when she e-mailed him. The FBI correlated hotel registration data from several different hotels — and hers was the common name.
The Internet is a surveillance state. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not, we’re being tracked all the time. […]
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. […]
Sure, we can take measures to prevent this. We can limit what we search on Google from our iPhones, and instead use computer web browsers that allow us to delete cookies. We can use an alias on Facebook. We can turn our cell phones off and spend cash. But increasingly, none of it matters.
There are simply too many ways to be tracked. The Internet, e-mail, cell phones, web browsers, social networking sites, search engines: these have become necessities, and it’s fanciful to expect people to simply refuse to use them just because they don’t like the spying, especially since the full extent of such spying is deliberately hidden from us and there are few alternatives being marketed by companies that don’t spy.