Monday, 10 June 2013

Internet privacy and the government

There is no such thing as a private email. There never was. I don't understand how people see it any other way.

It's the same as writing a letter. Letters were always the formal expression of our thoughts, and because, when I was growing up, they repeatedly appeared in newspapers, books, court evidence and history I saw them as matters of public record.

You put your innermost feelings (or controversial opinions) down on paper and handed it over to someone else. You have just given it to the world.

Email speeded up the process. To me "send" has always meant "publish".

That's not to say there aren't many hundreds of emails I've sent that I would rather were only read by the initial recipient, but always at the back of my mind has been the knowledge that what I have written takes seconds to forward, or even upload.

It's the same with phone calls. Phone tapping has been around longer than I've been alive. Why do you think your conversation is secure? If it's that interesting, it might not be.

The real debate should be how we, as a society, deal with it, not whether it should be happening. The genie is out of the bottle. We are entering an age where privacy, as we know it, is dead. The rise of CCTV and social media takes this way beyond electronic communications.

You should assume that everything you are doing outside your own house is being watched and stored, as are the people you call up, and the websites you browse. You'd be stupid not to.



  1. Yes, but no. For sure the moment your thoughts escape your head then you're at the mercy of others as to how private those thoughts remain, no matter what means of communication you use.

    But that's not the issue with PRISM, as far as I can tell. If you're conversing with a trusted individual, i.e. someone who you trust to keep your secrets, then the concern is over others listening in on your conversation, usually without your knowledge. Whether it is eavesdropping, mail intercepts, or phone tapping, the issue is with others who are not trusted having access to your conversation.

    But what the general public seem to be unaware of is that the public internet can be used in such as way as to make conversation between two individuals pragmatically secure. By pragmatically, I mean that you'll be long dead and buried by the time someone can listen in on your conversation. Emails and voice messages can be encrypted sufficiently strongly, and you can even surf the open web completely anonymously.

    But there's really only two categories of people that do so: the tin-foil hat brigade and the clued-up bad guys. We've nothing to fear from the former, and we have to use other means to mitigate the latter.

    Assuming someone is not in either of those camps then your advice is sound; assume that everything you do on the public internet is being examined and stored. Privacy isn't exactly dead, it is just "opt-in" now.

    1. Beautifully put, Mr Woolley. And good to hear from you!

  2. One of the best films I've seen this year is a documentary about exactly this

    Terms and Conditions May Apply is entertaining, enlightening and a bit terrifying. The trailer is here:

    and their website - which directs you to a couple of tools that let you block third party monitoring - is here:

    Highly recommended!

    Great blog as ever, Mr W.