Internet privacy: who’s reading your emails?

We’ve become used to thinking of the internet as a space in which new norms of relationship — norms that make more sense than the kind of authoritarianism we’re used to from governments — apply. Norms such as reciprocity, egalitarianism, free speech, consideration (give or take the odd flamer), that bind communities together rather than tearing them apart. Norms, in fact, that used to be taken as read in the way we related to one another. In that sense, they’re old norms — norms that we’d do well to rediscover throughout society. If the internet has become known as a bastion of such norms, however, then it’s a bastion under considerable threat.

We’ve noticed a bit of a surge of net-related articles of late. The furore over the revelation on Twitter of the identities of some celebrities who have taken out ‘super-injunctions’ preventing details of their behaviour being mentioned in the press (and preventing it from being publicly known that such injunctions are in place) has inspired the convention of a commons select committee to discuss such indignities.

Facebook, meanwhile, continues its apparent crusade to share every aspect of our personal information with everyone on the planet. The most recent example is the introduction of facial recognition technology, unannounced and set to operate by default. They, naturally, are claiming that it’s all for our own good, because it suggests that friends tag us in photos that look like us (don’t these supposed friends know what we look like?!).

Finally, behold the bleedin’ obvious. Police forces who insist upon collecting vast reams of data resolve crime no more effectively than those who respect our privacy — probably less effectively. Fooled, perhaps, into thinking that ‘knowledge is power’, many inept law enforcers have taken to collating more info than they can shake a stick at. Is it doing them an iota of good? Of course not. And it’s giving them free rein to violate our privacy into the bargain.

The battle to regulate (read: ‘weight in favour of the rich and powerful’) the internet has been developing for a while. It’s now in full swing. If we want to protect the values that make staring at a computer worthwhile, we’d better keep a close eye on proceedings.

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