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I am Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of the Guardian


On June 5 the Guardian published the first of a series of stories that have become known as “The NSA Files” – revealing a vast network of domestic and international surveillance carried out by the National Security Agency.

As editor in chief of the Guardian, I have been closely involved in the stories leaked to us by whistleblower Edward Snowden, and have worked closely with the Guardian US editor in chief Janine Gibson and the lead reporter Glenn Greenwald.

Proof! More proof!


This Sunday – 8/4 – Rally Against Unconstitutional Surveillance

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EU and US internet privacy talks continue in spite of PRISM spying scandal

The European Union and the US have finished the first round of negotiations for a trade-enhancing agreement to cover online privacy and piracy, in spite of the recent PRISM allegations of US agents spying on EU meetings.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is designed to “liberalise” trade between the EU and the US, with a view to remove cross-border regulatory issues, which can bring about extra costs and stifle trade.

It has attracted much attention from privacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and La Quadrature du Net, the latter of which has revealed leaked documents that detailed some of the topics under discussion in the private meetings. The topics under review include e-commerce, email and telephone marketing, copyright and censorship.

La Quadrature du Net claims that the partnership will put current laws regarding the liability of internet service providers – they are currently not obliged to censor networks at the request of police – in jeopardy, and likens the scheme to the failed ACTA agreement, which targeted online piracy. The organisation said in a statement: “Altering this regime is precisely what [the] entertainment industry wants and almost got through ACTA.”

ACTA was rejected by the European Parliament for, among other things, being “too vague”, but politicians admitted that a solution to the problem of piracy still needed to be found.

Elsewhere, La Quadrature du Net also points out that the EU and US are looking to co-operate on cyber security, in spite of the recent revelation that US agents were tapping the phones and emails of EU staff and monitoring secret meetings in EU buildings. The leaked EU document said of the partnership: “A uniform approach across the Atlantic would facilitate trade in products, services and applications while at the same time ensuring a high level of security.”

There had been warnings of the TTIP negotiations being cancelled as a result of the spying allegations, but the discussions apparently went ahead unabated.

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Internet privacy in an age of surveillance

The chasm between technology and the law continues to widen. On one side are massive stores of personal data maintained by the Internet services we use and the sophisticated analysis tools the companies apply to monetize that data. On the other are privacy advocates groping for legal protections against misuse of that private data — by government agencies and businesses alike. Regardless of where you stand on the freedom vs. security debate, one fact is clear: The disclosure of U.S. government surveillance programs has destroyed any remaining expectation of online privacy.

FraudNot to say that there was ever much of a reasonable expectation that our Internet activities are confidential. In her opening remarks at a symposium on Internet privacy held back in 2000, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Director Beth Givens identified “large gaps” in legal protections for sensitive personal data.

Three critical issues identified by Givens more than 13 years ago have only become more serious as the Internet’s role in our lives has grown: confusion about what information is and isn’t protected; lack of disclosure about how organizations use the personal data they collect; and the free rein industry exercises over the use of consumer data.

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Recent disclosures of U.S. government surveillance of our phone and Internet activity have heightened interest in services that promise not to collect or share our personal information.

One such service is DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused search engine that has seen its traffic jump since news broke earlier this month of the National Security Agency’s PRISM electronic surveillance program. The Guardian’s Stuart Dredge reports that DuckDuckGo’s daily search count reached an all-time high of 3.1 million on June 17, well above its daily average of 1.8 million daily searches prior to the PRISM revelations.

Those numbers are dwarfed by Google’s search traffic. According to research firm ComScore, Google handled 13.4 billion search queries in May 2013 for a daily average of more than 400 million searches per day.

In a post from May 2011 I described privacy-centric alternatives to Google, Gmail, and Facebook, one of which is the search engine that, like DuckDuckGo, promises not to record your IP address or any other information about your search. (The service was recently rebranded in the U.S. as Start Page.)

The fact is, the Internet is a public network. There’s no such thing as complete privacy online. Most people like being remembered at their favorite sites and having access to their Web history. Many of us don’t mind seeing ads based on our Internet profile and consider targeted ads a small price to pay for “free” services.

Even folks who broadcast their location 24-7 and liberally post other details of their life want to know the information isn’t being used against them. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to exert some control over the personal information you share with Web sites and their partners (not to mention other interested third parties).

Step 1: Block ads, screen scripts, and clear cookies
Last month’s post on how to improve security in Firefox, Chrome, and IE explained why enabling the browsers’ do-not-track feature may be a waste of time. SFGate’s James Temple reported earlier this week that members of the World Wide Web Consortium’s do-not-track working group recommend disbanding the group following its impending failure to meet a July 2013 deadline for a “Last Call” consensus — a deadline that has already been pushed back four times. Group members believe a compromise between online advertisers and privacy advocates is unlikely.

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1. Do not assume a credible-looking Web site is credible. Anyone can create a Web site that looks legitimate.
2. An old financial cliche that has been around much longer than the Internet applies to Web deals, too: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
3. Be cautious of unsolicited e-mails and phone calls — many are fraudulent.
4. Be wary of anyone who asks for personal information. Do not give out any information to a person, business or Web site you have not verified with a reputable source.
5. Your Social Security number should not be necessary unless you are applying for credit. Do not give it out.
6. Be suspicious of anyone who contacts you and claims to be from a company with whom you have an account like a bank, credit card or phone company. If they ask for information that the business already has, do not give it to them. Call the company independently, using the contact information on your statement or from the official Web site.
7. Do not respond to offers that demand you act immediately or won’t take “no” for an answer.
8. Legitimate charitable causes do not need to telephone or e-mail to solicit donations or obtain passwords or Social Security numbers to accept donations. Do not respond to these offers or pleas for help.
9. Do not follow the unsubscribe instructions in unsolicited e-mail. In many cases, it only verifies your e-mail address — you will get even more junk e-mail.
10. E-mail addresses or Web addresses that have a company name in the address are not necessarily from that company. Go to the official Web site for contact information.

Internet Privacy in Canada

As technology advances, so do government surveillance opportunities. And as these opportunities arise, what’s to stop them from being used against us?

In April of this year, the Human Rights Council at the UN presented a report on the urgent need for laws that regulate Internet surveillance practices to protect human rights standards. As the months go by, that need is becoming more and more apparent. As allegations of spying fly with the exposure of programs like PRISM and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it seems that Canadians may have real cause for concern when it comes to individual privacy.

In spite of the Internet’s unprecedented ability to allow for freedom of expression and opinion, an enormous risk lies in the collection of information stored in what seems a limitless digital memory. What a person says online may be innocent enough, but given the right spin or put in the wrong context, one’s private sentiments could be used to serve unintended means. Which is perhaps why private correspondences should be just that—private.

In a recent interview for the Guardian, Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, pointed out that, even if you’ve got nothing to hide, “you are being watched and recorded… you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to arrive under suspicion by anybody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use the system to go back in time to scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made.”

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