We have reached a critical juncture in Internet privacy and how the Internet will continue to evolve globally. The battle is raging between those who wish to control what occurs on the Internet including privacy, and those that want no regulatory control in place.
Today in the United States, this debate is playing out in the form of new regulations from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which will be implemented soon, which could lead to the "delisting" (removal) of information. The essential questions when any powerful agency such as the FCC starts regulating “good versus bad” information are:
1) Who is really deciding what qualifies as good or bad information, and
2) What political positions influence Internet privacy decisions being made?
3) How can a free, open and fair Internet allow censorship?
In this battle, the legal concept of due process is also very important, as the rights of those who view or post information on the Internet are impacted without any court hearing.
The United States government has started engaging in unilateral actions without any advance notice. On Friday April 15, 2011 (Black Friday) the Internet poker players woke up to find that literally overnight their access to the three most popular sites had been shut down. Similarly, several times during the last few years the United States Justice Department has summarily shut down Internet sites that the DOJ says were engaging in piracy of copyrighted movies, music or merchandise. All of this action took place without any court overseeing this government activity.
Privacy versus regulatory control
Privacy - Supporters of government regulation want to enact laws to protect privacy and control the sharing of information via the Internet. Should the world allow for the free-flow of information, or follow the lead of China, Iran and other tyrannical powers where the government strictly regulates what their people can view and have access to?
Regulatory control - Those who reside on this side of the equation (the creators of the Internet and many notable organizations who oppose the regulatory control of information sharing) value the Internet for reasons including the collection of users’ data. Whether or not data collected by these entities is protected is debatable. Google and Facebook have been caught red-handed infringing on users privacy and have no qualms about mining users Internet surfing habits for profit.
Is there really nowhere to hide?
Consider situations which recently unfolded with BMW and OnStar, which have announced they may track cars movements this year. Some claim the reasoning for tracking is valid, citing reasons such as tracking vehicles for traffic reports or for the collection of data. Facebook is notorious for unauthorized photo tagging and data privacy infringement behavior. They have been caught taking previously posted private photos on another website and making them public on Facebook - without the user's knowledge or consent. Facebook’s unilateral opt-in approach without informing users of such has privacy advocates up-in-arms.
Facebook users will notice Facebook’s new facial recognition technology when photos are being uploaded, requiring users to “opt-out” of being identified versus opt-in. Read about Facebook’s new facial recognition technology for more information on their opt-out versus opt-in behavior.
Sadly, organizations like Facebook and Google are becoming more brazen about exposing users’ information for profit. Consider how some discuss users' privacy, such as Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg who says “The age of privacy is over”, and Eric Schmidt, former CEO and current Executive Chairman with Google, who made a habit of telling the world how Google intended on infringing on users privacy.
More from Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman with Google:
- To the Atlantic: “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”
- At a CNBC interview: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
- In The Colbert Report: “Just remember when you post something, the computers remember forever.”
- Interview in Telegraph with Shane Richmond: “You can trust us with your data.”
- Washington Ideas Forum: “Washington is an incumbent protection machine… The Laws Are Written by Lobbyists.”
- About Facebook data in Telegraph interview: “We are willing to get it one way or another, with or without deal.”
The next step
The United States has reached a crossroads where carefully considered and planned National legislation and International treaties are needed regarding Internet privacy and the free-flow or restriction of information. This legislation would preserve property rights of those posting information on the Internet, offering protection so privacy rights cannot be taken away without due process. Additionally, citizens around the world would unilaterally have access to information via the Internet, without governments dictating randomly what information can or cannot be accessed. This legislation cannot, and should not, be handled by a commission with a political agenda.