Law in the Internet Society

Fending Off Goliath

-- By AlejandroMercado - 26 Nov 2011


“The unknown always passes for the marvelous” – Sherlock Holmes, The Red Haired League

Whether for the greater good of a selected few or the demise of the remaining ‘others’, it is a fact that both the Internet and the World Wide Web (hereinafter jointly referred as the “Net”) constitute a powerful tool of freedom and expression. However, the Net is not without caveats. For those who control it the Net is more than anything else “a powerful tool” directed towards advancing their economic interests. One way they do so is by rooting through all of the information we exchange online and keeping records to further their services, or trade our information for a price to advertising companies.

Fighting against these economic interests might seem impossible, given the fact that the general public perceives the interaction with and the behavior of computers a mysterious fact of nature that they cannot change. Also, because we have been conditioned to accept these caveats under the guise of commercial convenience. However, there are ways we can fend off these large economic interests to favor our own. First, create awareness within the general public of existing technology/software that allows for them to better control and protect their information. Second, support hackers in the development process of this type of technology by using such tools to our advantage.

Evils We Can Control?

Minority Report

It is now generally accepted that the way the Net is being commercially used constitutes a threat to privacy. Now, more than ever, the masses are becoming more aware of how the concept of privacy has been eroded to the point where it admits no precise definition. There also seems to be more public awareness that as the gadgets we use, such as our phones, further behave like computers with poor quality tools, we are more susceptible to an invasion of privacy.

When one comes to understand how most Internet traffic works, the ease with which Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) monitor and log our online activity is actually comprehensible. Computers convert all of the data that is sent and received by them into data packets, which, in turn, are logged or scanned by ISPs to determine what they are and be routed to their appropriate destination. Certainly, there might be good reasons for their inspection: prevent the spread of computer viruses. However, this monitoring seems unnecessary when personal routers, in conjunction with their firewalls, and other software can do the job for us. Accordingly, it seems unjustified to have ISPs monitor customer-browsing habits through packet inspection, conduct target advertising and pinpoint consumer preferences in association with other companies for profit purposes.

Nonetheless, the general public is yet to understand/grasp what exactly it is that they need to be afraid of. And when the threat to privacy is dressed up in glamorous hardware that provides a false sense of security or downplayed to "allow" for the use of social applications, the decision making process of giving up such rights passes inadvertently.

Public Awareness

A first step to ameliorate this problem is to increase public awareness regarding existing free software/solutions that allow them to better protect their privacy. For example, individuals can proactively protect their privacy by downloading add-ons such as “HTTPS Everywhere” to encrypt their communications with other websites. They can also learn how to filter their Internet traffic through a different IP address by using a ProxyWebsite. Another solution is to use software the likes of the TorNetwork to allow for more secure chatting and browsing over the Net. With respect to cell phones, for example, there are third party apps for Android handsets such as RedPhone and TextSecure that serve to encrypt a user’s communications.

Unrealistic Proposals

Of course, the ideal way to solve this problem would be to educate the illiterates. But, in order to educate, people need to want to be educated. And even if they did want to know everything about computer engineering, the majority would give up half way through the process. Hence, this solution seems extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Another approach might involve the creation of a U.S. Privacy Commissioner to be in charge of overseeing the handling of individuals’ personal information by both the government and private sector. Nonetheless, I consider that a Privacy Commissioner will be completely useless unless we resolve our privacy framework, which rests upon a patchwork of laws that have been enacted to address issues as they arise piecemeal. Besides, the speed with which technology is advancing will not allow the legislative process to keep up with our privacy needs.

Support Free Software

Thus, the second and most important step is to support the continued development of free software that protects peoples’ freedom and privacy by default. We might not be computer engineers or ever get to be. However, I have come to belief that if we adopt existing tools as the ones previously mentioned to thwart the attempts against our privacy rights and/or donate funds whenever possible to support their enhancement or development, we can play an important part in assisting white hat hackers to work for our benefit. It might seem trivial, but it is essential in order to allow those who do have the engineering skills to keep up the good fight.


Fending off economic interests the likes of AT&T and Google to protect our privacy interests does seem quite impossible when perceived through the lens of the general public. Nonetheless, the battle for privacy is not insurmountable. Us computer illiterates can play a seemingly trivial, but important part in the interest of freedom. First, we need to learn how to use existing technology/software that allows for us to protect our information. And in doing so, we will support the continued development of free software by those whose struggle for our rights passes inadvertently. And in the future, who knows? We might even break our dependence from cell phone carriers and other services to exchange information freely.


Webs Webs

r4 - 04 Sep 2012 - 22:02:21 - IanSullivan
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