Uncovering the NSA’s surveillance programs has highlighted exactly how little privacy Internet offers — a fact that some attribute to the lack of international online privacy laws, not to mention weak domestic laws.
Fearing people would lose faith in the Internet, Google asked the U.N. to address the world’s online privacy rights back in 2007.
The company’s privacy chief Peter Fleischer told The Guardian this lack of confidence could hamper the Internet’s development.
“Three quarters of the countries in the world have no privacy regimes at all and among those that do have laws, many of them were largely adopted before the rise of the Internet,” he said. “It’s said that every time you use a credit card, your details are passed through six different countries. We’re talking about this to help set the framework for the Internet of the future.”
Six years later, the lack of worldwide privacy rules still remains a real problem, and the main culprit is the U.S. Now, cracks are beginning to appear in the global network.
Following reports that the NSA has spied on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Brazil announced plans to create an undersea fibre-optic cable, which would funnel Internet traffic between South America and Europe.
Germany’s largest telecom provider, Deutsche Telekom, seeks to implement a rerouting plan aimed at avoiding foreign spies. Germany later went even farther, promising to use domestic-only connections to protect the privacy of citizens from the NSA.
U.S. domination of Internet management poses another concern for foreigners. ICANN, a non-profit established in 1998 by the Clinton administration to handle Internet management, rarely awards domain names (like .net or .com) to companies outside the U.S. In fact, VeriSign, a Virginia-based tech group, currently handles the coveted .com domain, according to Wired. Another company in Virginia manages the .org name.
Even the U.N. has admitted that no single country or organisation should control the Internet, Wired reported. But U.S. delegates have said the same about the U.N.’s attempts to take the reins. The U.S. and other Western countries admit they would reject a U.N. Internet treaty.
Meanwhile, Google’s own position on online privacy has become complicated as the company has faced criticism for sharing some information with the NSA, as well as scanning user data to target ads and for taking pictures of people for Google Maps.
One of the biggest advocates for worldwide Internet regulations today is a U.S.-based non-profit called The Electronic Frontier Foundation. Its privacy goals are described as follows:
“Respect for individuals’ autonomy, anonymous speech, and the right to free association must be balanced against legitimate concerns like law enforcement. National governments must put legal checks in place to prevent abuse of state powers, and international bodies need to consider how a changing technological environment shapes security agencies’ best practices.”
By the end of 2013, about 40% of the world’s population will have Internet access. Clearly, the issue is becoming more important than ever.
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