My Security Thoughts: Anonymity and Privacy, There is None Nor Should We Expect It
We all know that Al Gore invented the Internet in his spare time as an environmentalist (just joking). The Internet as we know it is the successor to the Department of Defense’s ARPANET. Thus in 1969 the first host computer was connected.
The initial purpose of the ARPANET was to communicate with and share computer resources among mainly scientific users at the connected institutions. The key words here are communicate and share. This is the heart of the Internet. It is sharing information and communicating with others.
The definition of anonymity from TheFreeDictionary.com (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/anonymity) is:
- The quality or state of being unknown or unacknowledged.
- One that is unknown or unacknowledged.
The definition of privacy from TheFreeDictionary.com (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/privacy) is:
- the condition of being private or withdrawn; seclusion
- the condition of being secret; secrecy
You have more rights to privacy using snail mail than you do using email. When using email, it traverses the Internet in plain text (i.e., not encrypted). Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can view your email at any time. There are strict rules on how and when the government can intercept and read your mail when going through the U.S. Postal System.
Google’s Gmail, Yahoo’s mail service, and Microsoft’s free offering provides a web-based email service but your email is not private. They do scan your email to provide targeted advertising. This could be done for other reasons as well.
Let me be clear—I want anonymity and privacy when I transverse the web. That is, for the most part, I want it but I don’t want criminals or terrorists to have the same. It could be said that I want my cake and to eat it as well.
Getting back on track, if something is built with a set of goals then you cannot expect that thing to operate in a manner that is at odds with the initial set of goals. You need to start from scratch. Build an Internet with anonymity and privacy as the prime goals.
The problem is that building a new Internet from scratch is practically impossible. There is no incentive for anyone to fund a project of this magnitude. I cannot fathom any government wanting to have a network that allows anonymity. The FBI has been saying that their greatest fear is an Internet that is dark.
The prospect of encryption in every device that is unbreakable is feasible. The likelihood is low due to the current level of user sophistication that would be required.
Additionally, the companies that provide all of the free services to users would balk at an Internet that offered true privacy and anonymity. Tracking algorithms would become useless.
Another aspect is do we truly want an Internet that allows true anonymity. Cyber stalkers, terrorists, criminals, pedophiles, etc. could troll along the Internet behind cover identities that could not be ascertained. Try as we might, most people are conflicted when it comes to privacy and anonymity. They want it for themselves but not the bad guy. The problem is that you can’t have it both ways.
Some may say that the constitution guarantees us a right to privacy. That is true but we need to look again at the Internet and that it was never envisioned to be used as it is being used. I do not believe that those designers would have thought that Twitter would be in existence among other things that exist on the web.
Even if we say that the Internet needs to insure privacy, then the question becomes privacy for whom. Once again, do we want the bad guys to have privacy?
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