The Internet Spying Problem Back Here

By  |  Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 11:28 pm

US-China relations have turned contentious over the past several months, particularly in regard to the issue of “Internet freedom.” But neither nation has an unblemished record on Internet privacy, says Eben Moglen, a Columbia University law professor and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center.

Last month, Google declared that it has discovered cyberattacks on its systems targeting Chinese humans rights workers, and made a decision to terminate the censored version of Google in China as a response.

Within a matter of days, U.S/ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton demanded that China investigate Google’s claims, and called for an Internet free of censorship. (Disclosure: I donated to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and was an active volunteer)

Both countries should take heed to the call for freedom, Moglen says. The only difference between spying in the U.S and spying in China is that China’s is centralized through the government, and the U.S has the capitalist kind, he said.

“We won’t win any freedom of the Internet discussion carrying Facebook on our backs,” Moglen quipped.

Moglen, who is a well-known figure in the free software movement, is concerned about the impact that the Internet’s predominant client/server architecture has on privacy due to the architecture’s potential for abuse.

Americans, he said, live with a microphone under every bush, a Webcam in every tree, and “a data miner under your feet.” Facebook and other cloud services such as Gmail spy on their users, he claims.

Data is aggregated about things you don’t want people to know, Moglen said. People would be “creeped out” at the how somple it is to un-anonymize data, he added. “Commercial data sources can be used to assemble maps of people’s lives.”

That is technically true, but I do not have to jump through hoops to watch YouTube uncensored. The information that is collected about me online is probably more pervasive than I know, but the spying doesn’t have an immediate effect upon my freedom. Perhaps that makes it easier to take my privacy for granted.


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3 Comments For This Post

  1. daemonios Says:

    That may be true, but at least in the European Union there are rules protecting personal data – and that includes any data that can be traced to specific individuals. Most collection and treatment of personal data requires express authorization by those individuals. If a data mining company is tracing anonymous data so that in the end they get information that’s traceable to individuals, they’re doing personal data treatment and must have an authorization. Of course, detecting these cases and punishing infractions is a whole different matter. I’m only saying that the difference in principles between the EU and China is important.

    I know the US has a different approach to privacy and data protection but I don’t know the policy in detail, so I can’t comment on that part.

  2. Kyle Fulton Says:

    Equating Chinese and American privacy intrusions is disingenuous at best. Americans do not have to choose to use either Facebook or Google. Chinese who bypass their great cyber wall are breaking the law and can lose additional freedom.

    Chinese censors block subversive sites like this one, IIRC.

  3. Joel Says:

    The Chinese government’s number one priority is to maintain social order and stability. The Internet is perceived as a threat to social stability, which is why the government has implemented restrictive measures such as the Great Firewall of China.

    The Internet companies most regulated are those that are perceived as possessing the potential to affect social stability. Internet search and Social Networks (SNS) are two such areas – thus negatively impacting foreign sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter. If you are a company that provides access to “sensitive” material or provides a communication platform for netizens to unite on “sensitive” topics, then you will continue to face pressure and restrictions from the Chinese government.

    The underlying trend appears to be that in the event that the government is unable to repress Chinese netizens’ needs for a particular service, they will restrict the foreign original and support a more easily regulated domestic alternative. This can be seen both with the Google – Baidu and Facebook – RenRenWang dynamics as well as with the recent emergence of Sina’s Twitter-like micro-blogging service.

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