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Globally, people resigned to little privacy online

Frank Bajak and Jack Chang (via AP/ SMH) | June 10, 2013
Internet users worldwide say they have few expectations of online privacy as governments increasingly monitor people's digital lives and Internet companies often acquiesce.

"The problem is that there is no alternative," he said. "If you don't use Facebook, what is the alternative social network available for the Internet user who is not an IT geek?"

Soghoian predicted an increasing push by governments and companies in Europe in particular, where privacy has been a much bigger issue for voters than in the United States, away from storing data in U.S.-based server farms.

Indeed, under U.S. law it is not illegal for the NSA to collect information on foreigners.

The disclosure of the NSA data-vacuuming program known as PRISM is only the latest "of many U.S. government programs created to infringe on personal freedoms," said Carlos Affonso Pereira de Souza, a technology policy professor at FGV think tank in Rio de Janeiro.

Going back well into the 20th century, the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand ran a secret satellite communications interception network that became known as Echelon and searched information including telexes, faxes and emails, according to experts including U.S. journalist James Bamford. The system was the subject of a 2001 European Parliament inquiry.

According to a U.N. report released this week, such surveillance has been on a global upsurge with governments increasingly tapping into online personal data and even discouraging online anonymity by passing laws prohibiting it.

The governments of China, Iran, Bahrain are among other nations that already aggressively oversee online activity, in many cases putting people in prison for political blog posts and other messages.

Israel's attorney general in April upheld a practice allowing security personnel to read email accounts of suspicious individuals when they arrive at the airport, arguing it prevents militants from entering the country.

China has long imposed tight control over media and spied on private communications among its citizens, especially government critics and activists, sifting through their email, listening in on their phone conversations and snooping on their cyber activities.

Major Internet companies employ internal reviewers who regularly censor content posted by users and scrub off offensive language, including political topics the authorities do not wish to be publicly discussed.

South Korea, one of the most wired countries in the world, has a law that allows authorities to ask telecommunications companies without a court order to provide information such as names, resident registration numbers, addresses and phone numbers of their subscribers. But this doesn't involve the substance of conversations users had using communications software provided by the companies.

Ko Young-churl, a journalism professor and communications expert at Jeju National University in South Korea, said most South Koreans are complacent about security for their personal data online ... "and most South Koreans don't realize authorities could use such tools against them."

 

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