Cyberspace and Police

Rob Fixmer (Interactive Week): Don’t make cyberspace into a police state. We need to protect our borders and our identities with equal vigilance. But if Americans think they are being spied upon, by government or businesses, as they make their way about the Net, as they send e-mail to grandma, watch videos, buy personal gifts or build Web pages, we will have turned cyberspace into a police state.

Most people have no idea how much they’re being spied on. The data massagers in big business collect and sell more about us than we tend to realize. It’s sleazy, and legal.

Now comes the “anti-terrorism” law, which will dramatically increase the amount of government surveillance. Maybe there won’t be lots of abuse. If not, that would be a first in human history — the first time government got massive new powers over its people but failed to abuse them in some manner.

I’ve long assumed that someone might be reading my e-mail, that is, someone other than me and the people with whom I was corresponding. It just stood to reason. E-mail is a very insecure system even without Carnivore.

Will the government be scooping up everyone’s communications, then sifting through them? Not for a while. But the technology is evolving quickly enough, with storage getting incredibly cheap, so that it’s becoming possible for such a situation to develop.

It’s probably best to assume, now and in the future, that someone has access to your data traffic. If that worries you, use PGP or some other encryption method for the most sensitive communications. If it doesn’t worry you, you’re more comfortable with surveillance than you should be.


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