Posts tagged “Privacy”

The (b)Logosphere – Part 1

The explosion of citizen journalism has allowed increased access to a diversity of voices around the globe. Issues and voices that are not represented in mainstream media are providing diverse perspectives on both popular and obscure political issues. However, this phenomenon is certainly not new. While recent attention has focused on bloggers around the world, past efforts, including the creation of Indymedia nearly ten years ago, leveraged the Internet for these same purposes. The success of citizen journalism is based on a combination of personal experience, opinion and analysis with traditional news to provide a compelling account of political events that engages and connects with the reader.

While bloggers are quite aware of the danger of government censorship and surveillance, the same skepticism concerning free expression and privacy often does not extend to the corporate sector. The blogosphere looks more like the logosphere, unlike the nologosphere of earlier incarnations of independent media. While some open, decentralized elements remain, particularly the use of open source software such as wordpress and open licensing such as creative commons, most of the tools and platforms used by bloggers are corporate, proprietary products: Blogger/Blogspot, Twitter, Gkype, Gmail, Feedburner, Flickr, Technorati, Facebook, Myspace, Youtube etc… This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just presents a different set of challenges.

After setting up a fake Facebook profile of a Moroccan Prince, Fouad Mourtada was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. Although Fouad was recently pardoned and released after an international campaign, the case has raised questions about Facebook’s possible involvement:

How the Moroccan police found out Mourtada’s identity remains a bit of a mystery. They could have obtained his IP address from Facebook, or from his service provider, Maroc Telecom, or from an old-fashioned snitch. But the preliminary court hearing did not include details of the police investigation, so the possibility of corporate cooperation cannot be ruled out.

In at least four cases Yahoo! cooperated with the Chinese government resulting in the imprisonment of dissidents. The use of a foreign, well known email service did not provide them with any more protection than a domestic Chinese service would have. Orkut, Google’s social networking site, handed over information to the police in India which was used to arrest a person for insulting a revered figure. Youtube, despite putting up a legal battle, has been ordered to turn over user information of everyone who has ever used Youtube to Viacom. Such services collect and store information about users that can and has been handed over to others, in some cases resulting in the arrests of activists and dissidents.

In other cases companies censor their users. Skype has partnered with a domestic Chinese company to provide a censored version of its popular voip/chat software. Microsoft deleted the MSN spaces account of a well known Chinese blogger and filters its service to prevent posts from being made that contain certain sensitive words. In fact, this is exactly what domestic Chinese blogging platforms do. The Chinese version of Myspace censors posts that contain sensitive words and also encourages users to report those who engage in “misconduct.” Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! all maintain censored versions of their search engines for the Chinese market.

Internet users can and should take measures to protect themselves, even Indymedia’s servers were seized by police in the past. Projects such as Tor provide technical measures to enhance ones privacy online by providing a significant level of anonymity. Global Voices Advocacy has created a guide that shows users how to blog anonymously with WordPress and Tor. The Citizen Lab has produced a guide to bypassing censorship. NGO-in-a-Box has produced a collection of security software that helps NGO’s secure themselves. It is important for citizen journalists to asses the threats they face and use tools that minimize those risks. A well recognized foreign brand is not a substitute for good security practices.

However, the strength of tools such as Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter rests upon their ease of use and most users will not take the additional steps necessary to protect ones privacy. Just as users may need to implement strategies to minimize their potential risks, the technology companies on whose services bloggers and citizen journalists rely should also take proactive steps to protect their users and communicate the limits of that protection to their users.

Google Handing Over IPs

After a request from Indian Law Enforcement, Google handed over the IP address of an Orkut user. The Indian Law Enforcement asked the ISP Airtel for information about the “owner” of that IP and Lakshmana Kailash K. was arrested. However, it turns out that Airtel did not hand over the correct information to Indian police, Mr. Kailash was released three weeks later. Google hasn’t had much to say:

When contacted for comment, a Google spokesperson told me that, “Google has very high standards for user privacy and a clear privacy policy, and authorities are required to follow legal process to get information. In compliance with Indian legal process, we provided Indian law enforcement authorities with IP address information of an Orkut user.” This was the only comment that Google’s PR people would give me in response to a lengthy set of questions that I sent over. In particular, I asked if they had received a court order for the information, or merely a polite request from the police. Their response leaves things very hazy.

Initially, Yahoo didn’t have much to say either, then they “misspoke“, now they’ve been taking a beating.

Child Protection Online

The Privacy Commission’s blog has an interesting post about the protection of children online. The context is in terms of privacy and not the usual implementation of filtering technologies.

There are increasingly deep levels of intimacy between marketers and children – there’s a thin line between content and commerce

All the major children’s playsites comply with data protection laws – in fact they all market themselves as champions of children’s privacy

In these children’s sites, the pervasive market research invades privacy – seamless surveillance – colonizing their play – constraining the identities available to them – recasting things like citizenship, friendship, autonomy, choice and control within the framework of the marketplace

It is interesting because all these sites would not be blocked by filtering software (ostensibly implemented to block pornography etc…) because they are kids sites. It not only demonstrates that throwing technology at a social problem will not “fix” it as well as need for parents and children to communicate and educate themselves about Internet safety.

Privacy Commissioner Investigates Harper

The Edmonton Sun reports:

The federal privacy commissioner is examining a public complaint over greeting cards sent from the Prime Minister’s Office specifically to Jewish constituents.

Several recipients have reportedly questioned whether the Prime Minister’s Office used government data to pinpoint Jewish residents.

How did the Prime Minister get a list of Jewish constituents?

Plan to tighten identity theft laws

The Toronto Star reports that the Canadian government plans to tighten up efforts to fight identity theft by adding amendments to the Criminal Code:

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was short on details on the severity of the amendments but said sharpening the Criminal Code will give police better tools to combat the rapidly growing theft trend that is constantly growing thanks to technology.

Always read the fine print.

Canada: Access to Information Leaks

From The Star:

When Ken Rubin wanted to know what information Canada planned to share with the United States about airline passengers, as both countries beefed up security after 9/11, he applied under the federal Access to Information Act, as any Canadian has the right to do.

But Canada Border Services Agency officials in early 2004 seemed far more eager to alert Anne McLellan, who was public safety minister at the time, to Rubin’s identity and to the possibility of embarrassing media reports, than to process his request, according to a memo he later obtained. That is plain wrong.

And when Canadian Press reporter Jim Bronskill more recently asked for information on Central Intelligence Agency aircraft landing in Canada, his name was shared among government officials during a conference call. Notes were later circulated to other officials, including top aides to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. That is wrong, too.

RCMP Investigation & Surveillance of a Journalist

Maher Arar is a Canadian citizen who was deported from the U.S., while in transit at NYC’s JKF airport, to Syria. He was deported based on information passed from the RCMP to U.S. authorities which claimed that Arar had ties with terrorism. The U.S. does not deny this, rather the U.S. simply claims that it did not seek Canada’s “approval or consent” before deporting the Canadian citizen to Syria. Arar was deported to Syria where he was interrogated and tortured, in an apparent case of “extraordinary rendition“, a system in which suspects are “out sourced” to countries that use torture in an effort to circumvent domestic laws against the use of torture. Canadian officials supplied Arar’s torturers with questions and personal information about him used during Arar’s interrogation and torture. Moreover, as Arar’s wife Monia Mazigh and the public pressed the Canadian government to have Arar released from prison in Syria, documents that contained information extracted from Arar while under torture in Syria were leaked to the public. Arar is now free and living in Canada, a Public Commission has been set-up to investigate the case.

On November 8, 2003, Juliet O’neill wrote an article that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen concerning the case of Maher Arar. Believing that Juliet O’neill’s story was based on classified information the RCMP began to investigate the Ottawa Citizen reporter. The following is an account of the investigative techniques used by the RCMP based on an
used to obtain a search warrant authorizing a raid on O’neill’s home.
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