Notice that funky smell? That's your privacy, putrefying on your browser's doorstep.
In an essay published last Saturday by CNN titled "The Internet is a surveillance state," noted security wonk Bruce Schneier pronounced Internet privacy as dead as the proverbial doornail. Schneier says you can thank corporations and a government that are fiending for data, which the Internet exudes in copious amounts.
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Schneier uses three recent examples -- Chinese military hackers, Anonymous' Sabu, and David Petraeus' ex-snuggle bunny Paula Broadwell -- to prove that privacy is dead. All of them were experts at erasing their tracks across the Net; all of them got nailed anyway. He writes:
Increasingly, what we do on the Internet is being combined with other data about us. Unmasking Broadwell's identity involved correlating her Internet activity with her hotel stays. Everything we do now involves computers, and computers produce data as a natural by-product. Everything is now being saved and correlated, and many big-data companies make money by building up intimate profiles of our lives from a variety of sources....
This is ubiquitous surveillance: All of us being watched, all the time, and that data being stored forever. This is what a surveillance state looks like, and it's efficient beyond the wildest dreams of George Orwell.
Unlike a lot of people who've sounded privacy's death knell, Schneier is no shmoe who's only interested in selling your data. The creator of several commonly used encryption algorithms and founder of CounterPane Security, Schneier was named one of InfoWorld's top 25 CTOs in 2005. He's published numerous books and is a popular speaker on privacy and security. He's also the subject of a Chuck Norris-style Internet meme.
The straight dope from Schneier
In other words, Schneier knows of what he speaks. And for many years he has advocated for an unequivocal right to privacy, as in this 2006 essay he wrote originally for Wired. It's worth a read. Here's a small snippet:
Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect... Watch someone long enough, and you'll find something to arrest -- or just blackmail -- with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies -- whoever they happen to be at the time.
Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we're doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.
His pronouncement that privacy is now DOA carries more weight than most. The essay is so utterly devoid of hope that I asked him via email if that's what he truly believed. His reply:
Basically, yes. Privacy is dead. Everything we now do involves computers. Computers collect data as a natural side-effect of their operation. That data is being collected and saved, and is being used to track us.