Who’s Watching You Online?
University of Advancing Technology
Who’s Watching You Online?
Does the government have a right to watch not just Americans, but the whole world’s internet traffic as well? In 2014, where the majority of our time is spent on the internet, is it right for the government to “watch” what internet users do online? All of this info is important where cyber warfare is the new combat, and more and more information about its users is being put and stored online. Perhaps these peering eyes will make the world safer from things like terrorism, drugs, child pornography, and other criminal and illegal activity.
The difference between anonymity and privacy seems to be commonly misconstrued. There’s a large difference when fighting for internet privacy, vs. internet anonymity. Louise Bennett, chair of the Security Community of Expertise, states, “I think there are really significant differences between privacy and anonymity. I would say that on the internet, anonymity is the ability to perform actions without them being traced to a person; they can trace them to the thing, but not the person. I think privacy overlaps security; they go hand-in-hand and what advocates for privacy really want is security for the individual from the intrusion into their personal life or targeted action.” Anonymity is the ability to not have an act or data traced back to the user. The user is essentially hiding their identity. With privacy, the user isn’t attempting to hide their identity in any way; they just want their information to be secure, and private. They simply do not want their personal life or information readily available or for sale. In the fight for internet privacy, the government should be no concern. They’re looking through users internet traffic to identify threats related to national security. What those in the fight for privacy should be fighting against is the corporations and websites who collect user’s information, and then in turn sell it to other companies who try and cater their advertising to them. If the user is doing nothing wrong, what do they have to be worried about? The user’s traffic will not be flagged and most likely never even seen or reviewed.
With anonymity, comes many different positives, as well as negatives. Anonymity can “ensure individuals have the right to free speech without fearing the repercussions”. It also provides protection for “whistleblowers who unveil wrongdoings of powerful individuals or organizations” as well as protect individuals [who wish to] avoid discrimination, escape abusive relationships and regimes, and start a new life.” (Bennett) However, anonymity can also provide more negatives than one might think. It can provide a means for “individuals [to] stalk, masquerade as others, [and] get into organizations to steal and defraud. Anonymous terrorists can plan, radicalize and perform cyber-attacks and activists can compromise businesses and publish confidential information.” (Bennett) Anonymity is a blessing, as well as a curse. Anonymity provides activists and whistleblowers the ability to expose information for the greater good or wrongdoings by powerful people/organizations. This can help people avoid potential harm, and is a case of something positive anonymity provides. However, what anonymity is mostly used for online happens to be quite the opposite. It provides criminals, hackers and wrongdoers a means to escape law enforcement. Anonymity can hide those buying/selling drugs, credit cards or personal information, and even child pornography. Anonymity in certain situations is helpful; however what we see it being used for mostly now is a way to avoid law enforcement. This ability to hide users online in the end encourages crime and illegal activity.
It is commonly speculated how exactly these users, good or bad, are staying anonymous. There are many methods to staying hidden online. One of the most common and popular software’s is “an onion routing service [called] the Tor network”. (Gibbs) This enables a user to easily stay anonymous through a browser interface, just like Google Chrome or Internet Explorer. Just install it and anything the user does through the browser is anonymous. The traffic is encrypted and sent through multiple nodes all across the world. There are other ways to stay anonymous like proxy chains (similar to Tor but more technical to set up), or a Virtual Private Network. (VPN) In the case of those who commit crime online, some ask why electronic payments cannot simply be traced. There is now a new form of electronic currency called Bitcoins, which is not owned by any sort of organization, and all transactions are sent to another person’s “Bitcoin wallet”, which is untraceable. Anonymous traffic and anonymous payment causes for quite the difficult task when hunting down a criminal online.
Tracing a payment is usually the best bet law enforcement has at identifying a buyer/seller, but now with anonymous transactions that makes law enforcements job just that much more difficult. This enables and feeds more criminal activity online and is definitely a negative when it comes to online anonymity. Anonymity and Privacy are two different things. All people should be entitled to their privacy. They should even be entitled to anonymity in cases where it concerns their safety. However we have seen more negatives than positives with online anonymity. It is taken advantage of and used for malicious and illegal activity, preventing law enforcement from finding those committing these crimes, and enabling future illegal activity. Anonymity for the most part is a detriment. If a user has nothing to hide, they should not be worried about government surveillance. The government is targeting users committing crime and anything that threatens national security. What most don’t know is that it is the large companies, corporations, and websites that are collecting user’s information and passing it around in order to make a profit.
Bennett, L. (2013, October 3). Do you want to be private or anonymous on the net? Retrieved December 3, 2014, from http://www.lexisnexis.com/lnacui2api/api/version1/getDocCui?lni=59H3-HM31-DYXB-S408&csi=270944,270077,11059,8411&hl=t&hv=t&hnsd=f&hns=t&hgn=t&oc=00240&perma=true
Gibbs, M. (2011, August 12). Who are you? Non? Anon? Retrieved December 3, 2014, from http://www.lexisnexis.com/lnacui2api/api/version1/getDocCui?oc=00240&hnsd=f&hgn=t&lni=53JJ-KF81-DYTC-900C&hns=t&perma=true&hv=t&hl=t&csi=270944,270077,11059,8411&secondRedirectIndicator=true