Privacy And International Boarders

When it comes to the topic of privacy, most everyone has an opinion. After Edward Snowden brought the “illegal” activities of the NSA back into the spotlight of the public eye, the number of people who had something to say about the issue world wide rose exponentially.

Though I agree with the bulk of them (this should at least be on our radar), I have also been a big critic of the collective voice of these people.

Part of the reason, was because  an adage I  learned a long time ago (once you put it onto the Internet, you can NEVER get it back!) seems to be lost on many in this age of prevailing social media. Many have enough information available about themselves obtainable though a simple web search, to almost make NSA “spying” unnecessary.
Then, there was the fact that, no form of communication by proxy (telephone, text, fax, email even letter mail!) is TOTALLY immune to interception by the authorities (or others). Utilizing encrypted web services makes it a whole lot harder, but is not (and never will be!) impossible to completely mitigate the risk.

All in all, though the NSA problem is on my radar, its no where near, priority #1. If anything, I am a bit amazed, that the public at large was “shocked” at the revelations. In the post 9/11 world, not to mention the initiation the patriot act back in October of 2001, it should have been apparent that there may be someone (or something) watching.  In fact, in the back of my mind, I always figured that something was keeping tabs on all the terabytes of data shooting around the internet.
Most of the time it would not occur to me. But there were occasions over the years when I pressed “reply” to add to a facebook conversation, pressed “send” and fired out an email to someone, or hit “post” to add my views to one of the many forums that I have been a member of over the years, that I wondered if the content was being checked.

I did not necessarily think that there was a room full of people with the job of scanning EVERY single character of text sent and received in one day of internet communication, but I figured there was some sort of automated system. Something that scans the bulk of the traffic and looks for keywords or “red flags”, that would cause the system to kick the communication up to some screen somewhere for further screening (by a human being).

If one of the keywords these machines look for is”Kill”,  then the humans could weed out IM messages as  “OMG I was so embarrassed I wanted to kill myself!” or emails as “I was so pissed that I could have KILLED him!”.

network map 1

Above is an interesting map for me. It illustrates the global network of undersea fiber optic cables that makes up the backbone of the worlds largest WAN network (Wide Area Network, otherwise known as the Internet). Those cables connecting the various continents and island nations of the world, are what make the super speed,  interconnected world we enjoy today, a reality.
I may not have ever left the continent of North America, but this network enables me to bring people everywhere, right here into my living room. My computer has bits and pieces of data on it originating from areas all over the world (and not just though the usage of P2P applications either).

I love thinking about the internet, because the internet as it stands now, is pretty much the epitome of freedom, globally. For example, if I wanted to visit Japan, I would have to go though that nations customs on arrival. But if I want to communicate with someone there (say, VIA an email or skype conversation), then its as simple as a click of a mouse, and the message is in Japan.

Though there are a few notable exceptions to the rule, the vast majority of the internet supersedes international boarders (there is no “customs” station for incoming data for most nations).

But as global as the reach of the internet is, there are certain nations that tend to get the bulk of the traffic flow, just due to the companies and portals that are located in these nations. As the map below will illustrate, the biggest one seems to be the United States.

traffic Map 12

Though the map does does not seem to illustrate  the direction of the data flow depicted, you can see that the vast majority of the backbone lines from Europe, Asia and elsewhere lead to the United States. There are a few little connections to other places, but the bulk of the traffic seems to end up in the US.

This makes sense. When you consider most of the web services and portals that many of us use in life, the majority are based in the US. Everything from the biggest social media services, the biggest online email account providers, most utilized “cloud” computing services to the most used porn websites.
There are a whole lot of Americans communicating and otherwise sending and receiving data from all over the world. But there are also a whole lot of foreigners (me included!) that send and receive (and even have data stored!) on American soil.

Hell, my ISP even outsources its email services to Microsoft’s “Live” (now outlook?) service. I guess it became more efficient to do that, then to operate its own mail server (that serviced all its customers in Manitoba).

At first glance, there may not be any trouble or problem with this. But in terms of privacy or litigation concerns, there is something to think about.

Consider this.

I live in Canada. As such, I have to follow this countries laws.And at the same time, any companies that I do business with on this side of the boarder, must follow the Canadian standards, when it comes to privacy concerns.

However, when it comes to all the companies outside of Canada that I utilize for different reasons daily, the picture is not so clear.

I know that personnel within the organizations themselves, likely can not LEGALLY access the information that is stored in a “private” area (for example, the content of an email account). That is against the law PERIOD (be the information pertaining to a US citizen or not).

But the question is more, how far do the privacy laws go, in terms of surveillance. Do the laws protecting Americans, become invalid when it comes to the data stores of  all “foreign nationals” of a given network?

This post ends here, because I really have no answer to this question.

CORRECTION:

It could be said that the Snowden revelations at least partially answered this question, in the revelation that the NSA can use its giant ear to listen to any pretty much any foreign citizen it wishes. Which I suppose also could mean, access to various  information  stores in the US.

Which begs the question of, how can you police  organizations like the NSA and its counterparts in Britain, Canada and other parts of the world?

Do we need an international organization that serves only as an international intermediary who’s sole  purpose is keeping all these “listening posts” of the internet under control?
Are there any organizations already existent, that could be trusted to take up the task?

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