Government Bills Spy on Individual Surfing Habits

Privacy & Security Posted on February 1, 2012

This week has seen an enormous rise in awareness of internet censorship bills such as SOPA and PIPA, which is good news for anti-censorship advocates. Whilst many within the technology industry were aware of these bills, others were not until last week’s internet blackout campaign which included large companies such as Wikipedia and Google.

However, many people remain unaware of government directives which insist upon ISPs retaining all customer data for a period of anywhere between 6 and 24 months. A survey carried out this week in the UK showed that 54% of respondents had never heard of the existing EU directive, which allows authorities to force ISPs to retain data so that it is traceable in the event of a crime.

Of course, many people object to this, whilst it seems understandable that there may be a need to address online crime, this approach has been described by some experts as a “whack a mole” solution to the problem.

In the US, a similar bill, H.R. 1981 is under consideration which purports to address the problem of child pornography and online exploitation. Of course, such an emotive issue is bound to gain support – but is this just a cover which gives authorities the right to access the information of any citizen without just cause? The bill, if passed through congress, is a direct violation of the right of an individual to privacy.

The reality of the situation is, although the US bill states that its only intentions are to address cybercrime, this bill actually won’t be that effective if passed. Child pornography rings have been successfully tracked down without the bill and cybercriminals don’t simply sit at home randomly hacking individuals without ensuring they have a lot of protection in place.

Whilst H.R. 1981 discusses the need to protect citizens from cybercrime originating from outside the US; it is difficult to see how it will achieve this by invading the privacy of its own citizens. For the average person, protecting their data is something that they have only given thought to when tinkering with privacy settings on social media sites – how are they expected to protect themselves from government directives?

Obviously a trusted VPN service can help individuals reclaim control of their personal data and surfing habits but it’s also a good idea to oppose the bill by writing to a representative; The Electronic Freedom Frontier can help with this.

SOPA and PIPA have done a lot to raise awareness of bills which governments are attempting to pass through in order to protect the less than innocent (large movie corporations to be more precise). In the UK, the Digital Economy Act was passed in 2010 and contains similar legislation to SOPA and PIPA. However, a survey carried out this week showed that 100% of respondents had not heard of the bill; this goes some way to proving how much bills such as this are pushed through as quietly as possible.

The free web and an individual’s personal right to privacy must be maintained, awareness is rising but many still don’t recognise that spying on surfing habits should have no place in a democratic society. In the meantime, a decent VPN will protect surfers and is recommended for those in the US as well as the EU as governments attempt to push through more bills which do little to protect citizens and are designed instead to protect large corporations from Intellectual Property Theft.

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