Privacy Archives

Last August the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 9-2 decision, came up with some Miranda style guidelines for prosecutors and judges covering how to protect Fourth Amendment privacy rights when searching computer records.  This was hailed by many as a significant step forward in protecting digital privacy.

Now, the Obama administration wants to see this ruling overturned.  A Slashdot piece about it summed it up nicely by saying “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, meaning essentially that once again the Obama administration isn’t nearly so different from the Bush administration, especially when it comes to the government’s ever growing desire to snoop everybody all the time.

I knew that electing him was a mistake and once again I’m proven right.  I also have no doubt that this health care plan is going to eventually constitute more proof.  (not that it doesn’t already!)

Technorati Tags: overzealous prosecutors, privacy, miranda, obama, fourth amendment, obama administration, search and siezure

Kaspersky CEO Wants To End Online Anonymity

I just saw this little gem on Slashdot this morning:

Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of well-known computer security
company Kaspersky Labs, is calling for an end to the anonymity of the
Internet, and for the creation of mandatory ‘Internet passports’ for
anyone who wishes to browse the Web

The very first thought I had after reading this and the articles on The Register and ZDNet Asia that it referred to was “This guy must have had an overdose of diet pills and they’ve caused his brain to shrivel up into something the size of a piece of buckshot.”  Then again of course there’s reason for him to think like that.  Just looking up the Wikipedia entry on him gives the first clue:

Kaspersky graduated from the Institute of Cryptography, Telecommunications and Computer Science, an institute co-sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Defence and the KGB in 1987

Given his history, I suppose it’s no wonder that he wants to eliminate anonymity but it’s obvious to me that he’s not thinking quite clearly here.  You see, while it is true that there’s a lot of people that abuse anonymity either to harass people or for criminal purposes that number is actually a small but extremely vocal minority.  Those who most need to make use of anonymity are, by definition, absolutely not interested in being noticed.

I’ve seen it said many times “If you’re not doing anything illegal then you have nothing to worry about.” or words to that effect and to that I respond Bullshit!, some things are just nobody’s flipping business!

Anonymity is necessary in order to have true freedom of speech.  It is the one way that unpopular speech can truly be protected and lets be clear about something.  Just because something is unpopular doesn’t mean that it’s wrong or that somebody doesn’t have the right to say it.  They do however, have the right to express themselves without fear of reprisal from oppressive governments, corporate entities, or just plain crazy people who might decide to oppress their speech with a shotgun if they knew their identity.

Everything is NOT everybody’s business.  That old reporter’s saw “The people have a right to know everything about everyone” is a damned lie straight from the pits of hell.  I myself frequently use both anonymity and encryption tools to conceal some of my activities online, not because I’m doing (or planning) anything illegal or that I’m being an ugly troll on some message board or blog, instead it’s but because what websites I visit, whom I communicate with and what I say to them is quite simply none of anybody’s business but mine and I want to keep it that way.

Others require anonymity in order to be safe from retaliation because they made the mistake of telling the truth about what some governments have been up to.  A very good read on the subject is “Dissent Made Safer: How anonymity technology could save free speech on the Internet.“.  You can also find more on the TOR website’s “Who Uses TOR?” page, the TOR Overview page also goes into detail about Why we need Tor and the Electronic Frontier Foundation is another source of plenty of reasons why anonymity is important.

“Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind.” Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60, 64 (1960). Great works of literature have frequently been produced by authors writing under assumed names.  Despite readers’ curiosity and the public’s interest in identifying the creator of a work of art, an author is generally free to decide whether or not to disclose his or her true identity. The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one’s privacy as possible. Whatever the motivation may be…the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry. Accordingly, an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.” — US Supreme Court McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm

In closing I’ll say that I actually found it quite entertaining to read the comments on Slashdot about this story and I don’t doubt that Mr. Kaspersky has quite probably signed the virtual death warrant of his company because I have no doubt at all that this will inspire many sysadmins and IT people to look elsewhere for their security software solutions.  I know *I* will never buy his stuff.

Technorati Tags: not your business, tor, fear of retaliation, anonymity, kaspersky, privacy, oppressive governments, freedom of speech

You Got A License For That Web Browser?

According to a story on ITnews there’s some people arguing that it’s time to require a kind of “internet drivers license” before allowing people to go online for the first time.

Australia’s leading criminologist thinks online scams have escalated to such a point that first-time users of computers should have to earn a licence to surf the web.

While I’m glad that this is brewing in Australia and not here in the US, I’ve no doubt that there is plenty of people that would like to see it happen here.

If nothing else, something like that would be a genuine nightmare to enforce.  For that matter, how would it be enforced?  Would unlicensed surfers suddenly face having their blogs yanked from every website directory and pulled off of the server that’s hosting it?

Then there’s the privacy issue because some of that was talking about using biometrics, chips and what have you to essentially require a user to validate their identity before connecting to the net.  Seems to me that this would only make it easier to track an individual’s activities and even block them from certain websites that the government has decided aren’t good for you.

Isn’t there enough of this kind of thing going on in places like China and Iran?  Don’t we have enough domestic spying going on as it is?

Technorati Tags: privacy, censorship, internet license, tracking

Google Ordered To Reveal Blogger Identity

In another assault on people’s right to anonymity, a judge has ordered Google to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger who apparently had some “less than complimentary” things to say about the Vogue cover model Liskula Cohen.

I think that there’s a couple of lessons here.  First, even when writing in a so-called “anonymous” blog on blogger, the things you write can easily come back to haunt you, especially if they fit the legal definition of libel.  Second, If you want to blog anonymously it *IS* possible to do so but it takes somewhat more than just signing up for a blogger account, even if you do so with phony information

It seems to me that it almost doesn’t matter what the topic is.  Somebody could write that they think rice-burners are more prone to accidents and before you know it they’re hit with a lawsuit by a Japanese motorcycle maker and they’re hoping that their San Jose motorcycle accident attorney can help them come up with numbers to back up their statement in order to quash a libel suit.

Part of the whole issue with anonymous (both those using casual or strong anonymity) is the same issue faced by everybody else that takes time to so much as tweet something and that is the ever growing tendency for people to slap somebody with a lawsuit at the slightest hint of anything that even might be considered legally actionable.

Anyone planning to write an anonymous blog (or do anything anonymously) needs to remember that “In Most Cases, You Only THINK You’re Anonymous“.  Just simply creating a Blogger account, even with false information, does NOT make you anonymous by any stretch of the imagination.

To be truly anonymous takes some effort.  One very good place to start would be to use the Tor Browser Bundle to browse anonymously.  It’s a combination of the TOR network and a portable version of Firefox that’s had it’s settings tweaked to maximize privacy.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not in any way support using tools like this for criminal or libelous purposes.  However I *DO* support and strongly believe in the right of people to be anonymous.  Anonymity is an important part of any free society, something that was expressed very nicely by Justice Stevens in the McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission case in 1996:

“Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority… It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation – and their ideas from suppression – at the hand of an intolerant society.”

The problem is that while the majority of people who use anonymity software are never heard from, there are always a vocal minority who will abuse it and make life difficult for those who truly need to be anonymous.

Technorati Tags: anonymous web browser, google ordered reveal, tor browser bundle, abuse of anonymity, anonymous blogger identity, anonymity software, anonymous blogger, anonymity, tor, anonymous blogging

Deleting Cookies? Don’t Forget The SuperCookies!

By now I think that probably most people online these days knows about cookies.  That they’re little text files that allows a website to store up to 4k of information on your computer.  They allow websites to recognize you when you come back, remember your login information and preferences settings and so on.

Cookies are also infamous in allowing websites, advertising sites in particular, to set a cookie with a unique identifier and then use that to track your activities across the web.  This is where various cookie management programs and techniques were developed over the years to give web surfers a measure of privacy and control over which cookies they allow to be set and also giving them the ability to delete any and all cookies any time.

Modern browsers like Firefox or Opera even have the ability to delete all cookies either on demand or every time you close the browser.

This practice was starting to hurt the datamining crowd as suddenly more and more people were deleting cookies and they didn’t have nearly as much data to mine.

Then they discovered the flash cookie.  This is a “feature” of Adobe Flash that allows it to set LSOs (Local Shared Objects).  These LSO’s aren’t traditional cookies at all since there handled and created with flash.  This means that when you delete all of your cookies, absolutely nothing is done to the LSO files.  Another thing advertisers love about LSO’s is that they can store up to 100K of information instead of the 4K that traditional cookies can hold.

Finally, some genius worked out a way to use these flash cookies to restore the traditional cookies that you deleted!  Now Adobe does provide a way to control these flash cookies but it’s so obscure, hard to find and even harder to understand that most people don’t bother with it.

You CAN however, delete those LSO’s manually.  To find them, click Start and then Run.  Enter %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /n,/e,C:\ in the box and click OK

Then navigate to C:\Documents and Settings\{UserName}\Application Data\Macromedia\Flash Player\#SharedObjects

In the #SharedObjects folder will be another folder with a random looking name.  Open that folder.  Inside it you will find a folder for each site that has set flash cookies (LSO’s) on your machine.

I personally prefer to take a hard line approach and delete every folder I find here along with all of their contents.  You may decide that it’s ok for some of these sites to keep flash cookies and not delete them.

But wait, There’s more!

That’s right.  There’s another folder with information about these flash cookies.  You’ll find it here. C:\Documents and Settings\{YourUserName}\Application Data\Macromedia\Flash Player\macromedia.com\support\flashplayer\sys\

Once again in that folder you’ll find a directory bearing the name of every site you visit that uses flash cookies.  First I think this list is very educational because you’ll find that most sites don’t say a word about flash, flash cookies, or Local Shared Objects in their privacy policy at all.

My personal preference here is the same as the previous folder.  I delete everything, no exceptions.

Once these flash cookies are deleted, the next step is to start your browser, cookie manager if you use one, and nuke all of the cookies that you don’t want, secure in the knowledge that THIS time they won’t magically rise from the dead.  This is another place where I take the easy way out and nuke everything.

This is the procedure that I’ve been using for some time now to keep flash cookies under control.  Yes, It seems involved, but honestly, once you do it a few times it’s a less than one minute job, especially if you follow my example and nuke everything.

Up until recently I was not aware of any software tool outside of Adobe that even attempted to manage LSO’s at all.  Today I’ve found a tool called BetterPrivacy 1.29, which is a Firefox plugin that promises to make it easier to have LSO’s automatically deleted.  It can even keep track of which ones you don’t want deleted.

Technorati Tags: restore cookies, privacy, local shared object, delete lso, flash cookies, cookies, lso, firefox plugin, undelete cookies

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