The freedom to anonymity

The rise of the dark web

The rise of the dark web

Recent days have started to see a trend emerging in relation to personal data, privacy and the use of metadata by third parties and business.

The scale of data interception of internet traffic is simply staggering. Recent revelations made by WikiLeaks (with whom I usually have little truck) reveal that transatlantic internet circuits terminating in Cornwall are being mirrored to analyse the data and content. Indeed it would appear up to six 10Gb pipes have been tapped for this purpose with all the data passing across those connections being copied for automated analysis.

To put that in context, if the entire content of the British Library was to be digitised, that content could be passed across those pipes in around 40 seconds. Of course the security services should be able to access data in order to prevent terrorism and the like – but surely there is a middle ground between that and blanket access to all my (and your) digital transactions.

Indeed the early thought leaders in internet communications were concerned about this free trawling of data nearly as soon as the internet was developed. It was this fear which in part led to the creation of mechanisms to prevent data being read in the open. Both encryption mechanisms and anonymising browsers such as TOR were developed in a direct response to the uncontrolled accessing of personal electronic data. In that regard, it could be argued that the behaviour of States and their security services have spawned the very technologies they now struggle to defeat.

One of the most balanced and interesting examinations of the conflicting right to privacy and security can be found in the excellent Horizon: Inside the dark web (BBC) which raises some thought provoking questions.

Of course browsers which make you effectively anonymous, shield your IP address or otherwise hide a user make the perfect ground for organised (and not so organised) crime to flourish. Similarly, anyone using these to protect their identity and lifestyle choices, preferences and areas of interest from the increasingly invasive business sector immediately appear suspect.

The growing market for our data, metadata and likes is potentially much more invasive than any other form of information which would otherwise be classed as personal data by legislation such as the Data Protection Act (UK) or similar in other jurisdictions. Although it may be true to say businesses who buy this data may not know your name, they know your web site choices, email addresses and IP’s you use and communicate with, purchases and search phrases. In addition, they have the time, location and frequency of your data useage and communication. With that mix, it doesn’t take much to paint a picture of you which uniquely identifies you.

I for one would like to see restrictions on the blanket capture, scanning and profiling of electronic data. I may not have anything to hide, but I wouldn’t accept my mail being intercepted read and copies ‘just in case’ so why does the digital nature of the traffic make this acceptable.

With legitimate IT businesses such as Kaspersky and McAfee expressing concerns about the availability and interception of this data it may not be long before someone (not the likes of Microsoft, Google et al with vested interests in your data) bring out a more responsive and stable browser such as TOR which would bring greater encryption, anonymity and arguably security.

These new generation of browsers would be far more difficult to associate with users and effectively anonymous browsing could be possible. My personal view is that the ‘reasonable majority’ are increasingly resisting the profiling by IT corporations and third party businesses who only want our data to sell more stuff and not to protect us or our families. If these aren’t more effectively controlled how long will it be before those who need controlled access can’t achieve it – because we’ve all crossed to the dark side to avoid corporate snooping?

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