It’s just 25 years since the World Wide Web was created. It now touches all of our lives, our personal information and data swirling through the internet on a daily basis. Yet it’s now caught in the greatest controversy of its life surveillance. No spy of the previous generations could have imagined that we would all volunteer for the world’s best tracking device, our mobile phones. The revelations of US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden have led many to ask if the Web we love has been turned against us.
Where does the outside world stop and private space begin?
What details of your life are you willing to share with strangers?
Information is a funny sort of power. The way a government can use it to keep control of its citizens is insidious and sneaky, nasty in some cases. We have to all learn more about it and we have to in a way rethink, rebase a lot of our philosophy. Part of changing that philosophy is to understand that our lives are not analysed in the first instance by people, but by computer programmes. Some people just don’t have an understanding about what’s possible. You must have heard people say, “Well, we know nobody’s reading our e-mails because they don’t have enough people.” Actually, hello, it’s not… These e-mails are not being read by people. They’re being read by machines.They’re being read by machines which can do the sorts of things that search engines do and can look at all the e-mails and at all the social connections and can watch and predict human behaviour and trends.
The Snowden revelations have generated greater interest than ever in how the internet is being used for the purposes of surveillance. But watching isn’t just done by governments. The most detailed documenting of our lives is done by technology companies. Two years ago, tech researcher Julia Angwin decided to investigate how much these companies track our behaviour daily.Her findings give us one of the best pictures yet of just who is watching us online every minute of every day.
Julia Angwin tells us “Every time we browse the internet, what we do can be collated and sold to advertisers. So, basically, online there are hundreds of companies that sort of install invisible tracking technology on websites.They’ve installed basically a serial number on your computer and they watch you whenever they see you across the Web and build a dossier about your reading habits, and so the people who know your browsing habits can also discover your deepest secrets, and then sell them to the highest bidder.”
It is also understood as long as your phone’s Wi-Fi connection is on and connected to a signal, you can be tracked. Google, Apple, other big companies are racing to map the whole world using Wi-Fi signals and then, whenever your phone is somewhere, they know exactly how far you are from the closest Wi-Fi signal and they can map you much more precisely even than GPS. And we now know that this data has been seized by governments
When NSA found all this data that they had access to the NSA was like, “Oh, that’s an awesome way to track people “Let’s scoop up that information too.”
But is this simply a matter of principle? Is losing privacy ultimately the price we pay for peaceful streets and freedom from terror attacks?
Bruce Schneier is a leading internet security expert. He was part of the team which first analysed the Snowden documents.
According to Bruce “They don’t just want your search data or your e-mail. They want everything.
They want to tie it to your real world behaviours – location data from your cellphone – and it’s these correlations. And as you are being surveilled 24/7, you are more under control. Right? You are less free, you are less autonomous.”
What data does is gives someone control over you. The reason Google and Facebook are collecting this is for psychological manipulation. That’s their stated business purpose, right? Advertising. It’s hard to imagine that this data can exert such a level of potential control over us but looking for the patterns in the data can give anyone analysing it huge power. What’s become increasingly understood is how much is revealed by meta-data, by the information about who is sending messages and how often they’re sending them to each other. This reveals information about our social networks, ultimately the concern of this is that, in a dystopian scenario, you have a situation where every facet of your life is something that is open to analysis by whoever has access to the data. They can look at the likelihood that you’re going to get Alzheimer’s disease because of the amount of active intellectual entertainment you take part in on a day-to-day basis. And when you start giving this level of minute control over people’s lives, then you allow far too much power over individuals.
David Chaum was very far ahead of his time. He predicted in the early 1980s concerns that would arise on the internet 15 or 20 years later – the whole field of traffic analysis that allows you to predict the behaviours of individuals, not by looking at the contents of their e-mails but by looking at the patterns of communication. David Chaum to some extent foresaw that and solved the problem. Chaum’s papers explained that in a future world where we would increasingly use computers, it would be easy to conduct mass surveillance. Chaum wanted to find a way to stop it. Chaum always had a deep feeling that privacy is intimately tied to 4human potential and that it’s an extraordinarily important aspect of democracy.
David Chaum is cryptographer and cryptography has traditionally been used to provide secrecy for message content and so I used this message secrecy technology of encryption to actually protect the meta-data of who talks to who and when, and that was quite a paradigm shift. Chaum had realised something about surveillance.
Who we talk to and when is just as important as what we say.
The key to avoiding this type of traffic analysis was to render the user effectively anonymous.
One cannot be anonymous alone. One can only be anonymous relative to a set of people.
The more anonymous users you can gather together in a network, the harder it becomes for someone watching to keep track of them, especially if they’re mixed up. Chaum’s response to this was to say, in order to have a free society,we need to have freedom from analysis of our behaviours and our communications.
But Chaum’s system didn’t take off because communication using e-mail was still the preserve of a few academics and technicians. Yet his insights weren’t forgotten. Within a decade, the arrival of the World Wide Web took communication increasingly online. The US Government understood the importance of protecting its own online communications from surveillance. It began to put money into research. At the US Naval Research Laboratory, a team led by scientist Paul Syverson got to work. Syverson’s system was called the Tor network. Tor stands for “the onion router”
Somebody who wants to look at things around the Web and not necessarily have people know what he’s interested in. It might just be the local internet services provider, he doesn’t want them to know which things he’s looking at, but it might be also the destination. Syverson’s system worked. It was now possible to surf the net without being watched. As David Chaum had observed, the more anonymous people, the better the security. Part of anonymity is having a large number of people who are also anonymous because you can’t be anonymous on your own. What Syverson and his team had done, building on the work of David Chaum, would begin to revolutionise the way that people could operate online. In the mid-2000s, they handed the network over to a non-profit organisation who overhauled the system. Now the network is represented by people like this Jake Applebaum…researchers dedicated to the opportunities they felt Tor could give for free speech.
The Tor network gives each person the ability to read without creating a data trail that will later be used against them. It gives every person a voice. Every person has the right to read and to speak freely, not one human excluded. And one place Tor has become important is the Middle East. During the Arab Spring, as disturbances spread across the region, it became a vital tool for dissidents…especially in places like Syria. Syria was not the only place where Tor was vital. It’s used in China and in Iran. In any country where internet access is restricted, Tor can be used by citizens to avoid the gaze of the authorities. China, for example, regularly attacks and blocks the Tor network and they don’t attack us directly so much as they actually attack people in China using Tor. They stop them from using the Tor network. But Tor wasn’t just helping inside repressive regimes. It was now being used for whistle-blowing in the West, through WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange.
“I’d been involved in cryptography and anonymous communications for almost 20 years, since the early 1990s. Cryptographic anonymity didn’t come from nowhere. It was a long-standing quest which had a Holy Grail, which is to be able to communicate individual-to-individual freely and anonymously. Tor was the first protocol, first anonymous protocol, that got the balance right. From its early years, people who wanted to submit documents anonymously to WikiLeaks could use Tor. Tor was and is one of the mechanisms which we have received important documents, yes.” says Wikileaks founder Juian Assange. Chelsea Manning has said that to the court, that he used Tor amongst a number of other things to submit documents to WikiLeaks.
Meanwhile, the Tor project, started by the US government, was becoming a target. It’s very funny, right, because on the one hand, these people are funding Tor because they say they believe in anonymity.And on the other hand, they’re detaining activists at airports, threatening them and doing things like that. And they’ve even said to some activists, “We love what you do in Iran”and in China, in helping Tibetan people. We love all the stuff that you’re doing, but why do you have to do it here?”
It is because the users have something which bothers them, which is real autonomy. It gives them true privacy and security. Tor, invented and funded by the US government, was now used by activists, journalists, anybody who wanted to communicate anonymously, and it wasn’t long before its potential began to attract a darker type of user.
The extraordinary success of Silk Road attracted new customers to new illegal sites. This part of the internet even had a new name – the Dark Web. A dark website is impossible to shut down because you don’t know where a dark website is hosted or even where it’s physically located or who’s behind it. And there was one other thing which made Silk Road and its imitators difficult to stop. You paid with a new currency that only exists online, called Bitcoin. Before, even if you had anonymity as a user, you could still track the transactions, the money flowing between persons, because if you use your Visa card, your ATM, bank transfer, Western Union, there is always… Money leaves a mark. This is the first time that you can anonymously move money between two persons. Bitcoin is no longer an underground phenomenon.
What’s controversial about Bitcoin is that it goes back to something quite like cash. It’s not like a bank account where a government investigator can just call up the bank and get all the records of who you have ever transacted with without any effort at all. If they want to go and find out where you got my Bitcoins, they’re going to have to ask you. 43:59They’re going to have to investigate. The Dark Web as we know is now used for various criminal activities – drugs and guns, financial crime, and even child sexual exploitation. So, is anonymity a genuine threat to society? A nightmare that should haunt us?
There is often asserted certain narratives about anonymity and, of course, one of the narratives is that anonymity creates crime so you hear about things like the Silk Road and you hear, “Oh, it’s terrible, someone can do something illegal on the internet.” Well, welcome to the internet. It is a reflection of human society where there is sometimes illegal behaviour.
The reality is that we don’t have too much privacy in the cyber space.
If you want to travel, if you want to pay with your credit card, 2if you want to access internet, forget about privacy. Some people say, “Privacy is over, get over it”, because basically we’re trending towards the idea of just completely transparent lives. Some think that’s nonsense because information boundaries are important so that means that we’ve got to have systems which respect them so we’ve got to have the technology to produce, which can produce privacy. And those who understand surveillance from the inside agree that it’s the only way to protect our communications is through encrytion.
If encryption is to become more commonplace, the pressure will likely come from the market. The result of the revelations about the National Security Agency is that people are becoming quite paranoid.
It’s important to not be paralysed by that paranoia, but rather to express the desire for privacy and by expressing the desire for privacy, the market will fill the demand.
By making it harder, you protect yourself, you protect your family and you also protect other people in just making it more expensive to surveil everyone all the time. It turns out that it’s easier in this universe to encrypt information, much easier, than it is to decrypt it if you’re someone watching from the outside. The universe fundamentally favours privacy. We have reached a critical moment when the limits of privacy could be defined for a generation.
We are beginning to grasp the shape of this new world. It’s time to decide whether we are happy to accept it. Thank you. Your identity has been verified.