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Let's put a brake on the real snoopers

Jonny Evans | Nov. 12, 2013
The outcry over the NSA/GCHQ Internet surveillance scandal can't hide the fact that huge corporations won't say what they know.

Broken trust
With this in mind, it's no surprise that the big tech companies are beginning to stand up to global government. Not only does the insecurity created by such surveillance threaten our sense of personal freedom, but it also undermines their future business plans, which demand that they control our data.

Some headlines help capture some of their anger:

* Google engineer accuses NSA and GCHQ of subverting 'judicial process'.

* NSA and GCHQ mass surveillance violates EU law, study finds.

* Tim Berners-Lee: encryption cracking by spy agencies 'appalling and foolish'.

* Microsoft tries to lure Gmail users by accusing Google of snooping emails for profit.

* Apple takes strong privacy stance in new report, publishes rare "warrant canary" .

* Apple Says It Isn't Interested in Your Data: Here's What Apple Does and Doesn't Know About You.

* GCHQ data snooping has "destroyed trust in British tech".

Apple, Google and others are actively lobbying governments to take steps to make this surveillance more transparent. That's understandable: Who in their right mind is going to use Google Docs if they know their valuable documents may be read by a rogue security official or well-equipped criminal gang?

Regaining faith
Tech firms need to win back customer trust.

Apple this week took a step toward this when it published its Report on Government Information Requests.

This document is interesting in lots of ways, particularly Apple's statement that: "Our business does not depend on collecting personal data. We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers. We protect personal conversations by providing end-to-end encryption over iMessage and FaceTime. We do not store location data, Maps searches, or Siri requests in any identifiable form." This sounds reassuring, but we still lack any granular insight into how much personal data any company holds that is associated to an individual user account.

Apple may not hold too much, but companies such as Google, Facebook and the big online retail entities will hold much, much more. So why can't we see it? Take the power back There's a growing debate about a bill of digital rights for the online age. Internet users would be able to engage in a far more fulfilling debate if enabled to access, read and edit the personal data held by the big companies. For this we need transparency.

Apple tells us the U.S. government |does not allow it to say what content has been disclosed to national security agencies. But the tech companies don't need to tell us what they share with government. All they need do is give us total control over what data they hold about us in the first place.


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