Confidentiality: the new frontier | Brantford Exhibitor

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Many years ago, I was giving speeches to groups to let them know that the internet was not a fad and that it would have a real impact on everyone’s life.

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But I hadn’t anticipated the current state of the internet.

I had always thought of it as the classic “information highway” it was meant to be.

Little did I and others know that a real revolution that would turn our whole world upside down was about to happen.

The Internet, as a global communications network, has delivered on all the promises of the information highway and more. Today, we carry in our pockets a device that puts the sum total of human knowledge within reach.

It heralded a golden age of progress in the arts and sciences, eclipsing all our previous achievements. However, no technology is neutral.

For example, guns can be used to hunt for food, but they can also be used to kill our fellow human beings. Indeed, the Internet has brought us scientific achievements beyond our dreams, disseminated the arts, given voice to private ideas, and allowed it to proliferate. It also brought a plethora of bad results.

It has been used to subvert our democracies, spread deadly misinformation and confuse people about what is fact. This has allowed conspiracy theorists of all kinds to flourish and spread their lies to an audience seemingly ill-equipped to interpret what is true and what is false.

The Internet has upended our usual ways of doing business. Movies are pirated, books are shared online, and newspapers and electronic media, while trying to adapt to the new paradigm, have seen their credibility and financial viability strained by the torrent of misinformation.

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Totalitarian governments view the Internet as a golden opportunity to invade people’s privacy with unprecedented ease. A riot would be triggered if a government mandates a tracker to report a person’s every move, what they read and who they talk to. However, most people carry cellphones, which have the ability to do just that and we thoughtlessly accepted it.

We are often willing to trade privacy for convenience. Governments try to scare us into allowing such surveillance under the guise of law and order – to keep criminals away from honest people.

Special secret courts have been set up to ensure the protection of people’s rights. But since the deliberations of these tribunals are secret, who knows what they are doing? Certainly not the public.

The Romans had a Latin phrase that suited this situation perfectly: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Translated, this means: “Who watches the watchers?” The answer is nobody.

Privacy can be a matter of life and death as whistleblowers and activists struggle to spread the word in the face of authoritarian governments. One of the tools they use is a virtual private network, or VPN, which disguises your internet activity. These systems are inexpensive and work exceptionally well in encrypting your traffic between sites, as well as acting as a relay point for your internet traffic.

This is the same type of system you use to do your internet banking.

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VPN providers are meant to be trusted third parties that do not keep logs of sites you visit or talk to. Unfortunately, some have been caught keeping logs and selling the information to companies for marketing purposes.

Governments, too, have stepped in and pressured VPN providers, even requiring them to keep logs and turn them over in response to police or court orders.

While the safeguards above can help, privacy always loses when governments attempt to control their populations.

The Internet has given them a golden opportunity to do so. Who watches the watchmen?

Tim Philp has loved science since he was old enough to read. Having worked in technical fields all his life, he shares his love of science with his readers every week. He can be reached by email at: [email protected]

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