Thursday, January 17, 2008

Privacy vs Safety on the Internet

I am sick of reading about all the different organisations complaining about our lack of privacy in the 21st century. Apparently our human right to a private life is being eroded.

And why? Because the authorities want organisations to keep a log of what each computer does on their Internet sites or services.

I wish to draw an analogy to the real world. Every day you walk along the streets. You pass other people, some on foot, some in cars and some in offices or shops. They have eyes and a memory. They can easily see what you look like. They might remember what you look like, where you were and at what time. Is this an assault to your privacy? Is this infringing your human rights? No.

In Britain's cities there are more and more video cameras being installed. I love this. If I were robbed or assaulted there would be indisputable video evidence that could be used to bring the offender to justice. I cannot understand why anyone has a problem with video cameras unless they are up to no good?

If I were to walk down the street wearing a padded jacket and a balaclava so my face and body shape were disguised what would the reaction be? I would have 5 police officers pointing a gun at my head. Do you think the argument you were entitled to privacy would cut any mustard?

Assuming I was dressed normally, and I snatch an old lady's handbag she would shout and people would look round. They would witness the event and the police would have descriptions from numerous people as to who attacked the old lady and how.

Returning to the subject of the Internet there are no witnesses, and no faces to recognise. When I visit a website I have no idea who else is on the site at the same time. The owner of the website has no information about people who visit the site. In terms of privacy this is far more private than even the scenrio with the balaclava. This is a criminal's dream come true.

Say this old lady who had her handbag stolen went to report the crime and the police refused to record details of the offender because it infringed his right to a private life. Can you imagine the public outcry?

Now that I have won that argument, let us ramp up security on the Internet. When I send and receive information on the Internet, the only way I can be identified is by the unique number my computer uses to enable replies to be received from other computers. This is my IP address. Technically with my IP address, date and time this can be traced to my internet line - usually a telephone number and address. In practice this is nearly impossible. Even if this is accomplished there is no way to prove who was using the computer. There is no physical description of the person. By the time the address is located the computer could be removed or destroyed.

My point is I want more logging of activities on the Internet. I want more technology to link Internet activities to a real person. Without it cyber-crime will continue to soar. I don't see how having all my activities on the Internet logged is an issue - so long as I am not doing anything illegal.

The worst aspect of all this logging is that the logs are sometimes used to directly target marketing to certain demographics. If the logs record you accessing BBC News online this could be of interest to a Financial Times salesman. The salesman would be happy to pay good money for this information.

To the people who have a concern about this:
1. We are permanently bombarded with advertising every day of our lives. It doesn't stop us watching television for example. We are all capable of simply ignoring it.
2. We get so many valuable services on the Internet for free. If users of the service do not pay at point of use the providers need to obtain an income to support the service somewhere. As the consumer has come to expect so much for nothing on the Internet this is a situation of our own making - and to be honest - I would rather read an advert than part with hard-earned cash!

To conclude - we need to markedly increase security on the Internet for the protection of the community. I don't believe it is any less private than walking down the street. If I am abiding by the law I don't see what the problem is with my activities being recorded.


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