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Internet privacy and the eyes inside your computer

by Archives October 28, 2008

People exchange all kinds of information on the Internet through social networking sites, search engines, instant messages and BitTorrent downloads. Most people don’t understand or care much about the inner workings of these services or their privacy policies. However, the one service Internet users should get to know as soon as possible is their Internet Service Provider (ISP). The sooner people do this, the better.
You may not be aware of this, but the information you share online is read by hundreds of individuals and companies, and it is perfectly legal for them to do so. It is gathered without your knowledge, analyzed, and sold, all with the willing assistance of your ISP.
If this doesn’t bother you, ask yourself this: do you want your private e-mails and instant messages read by government agencies? I’m not talking about Canadian agencies here, but American ones. Under the guise of the Patriot Act II, they can now use high-tech software like “Carnivore” (FBI) to scan anything they deem “fishy.”
You should be questioning your ISP at this stage. Do you know how long they store their Internet records? Are you comfortable with having your information sold to third party advertising companies such as Phorm and NebuAd?
Allow me to scare you with something else: DPI, or Deep Packet Inspection. It’s a firewall technology used for full data mining of the traffic flowing through the service provider. The worst part is that DPI is a method that can see through encryption. Not only used for security purposes, it can read every word going over the wire and look for sensitive corporate data. It has come under the microscope lately, as net neutrality advocates lambasted it for its obvious intrusions of privacy. Canadian ISPs such as Bell are already using it, and they’re probably busy compiling profiles of their users this very second. The more they can sell for targeted advertising purposes, the better.
However my problem is with the ISPs, and what I call their “snoop and squeal” power. Where is the line between provider and police? Isn’t access to my personal information enough? While I wouldn’t condemn the arrest of a pedophile thanks to an ISP’s help, I would certainly hate being targeted because of the websites I view, or the files I choose to download. The privacy laws that currently exist under Canadian law protect us and have specific procedures investigators must follow.
In response to the recent debate over the role of ISPs in Canada as potential agents of law enforcement or merchants of your private information, onlinerights.ca is calling for all service providers to take the ISP Privacy Pledge. First, they ask ISPs to promise they won’t respond to government or law enforcement requests for personal information unless the request is supported by a court order. Second, they ask them not to collect any information that could personally identify an individual, except where required by law to do so. The pledge is an excellent way to send parliament a message that privacy is important; that laws providing for warrant-less searches, such as the Patriot Act, threaten to reduce us to a police state.
So, be on the lookout for clauses in your ISPs privacy policy that resemble this, “may use information such as the websites you visit or online searches that you conduct to deliver or facilitate the delivery of targeted advertisements.” It’s important to be informed and responsible.

Visit onlinerights.ca, and intellectualprivacy.ca, for more information on how you can protect yourself and your information online.

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