How will you ensure Privacy in The Post-Snowden Internet?

Ah PRISM, that alleged NSA surveillance program. Does the fact that the NSA could unilaterally access data and perform: “extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information” with examples including email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP chats (such as Skype) and social networking details bother you?. How many of you have started looking at secure systems for communication going forward?  Have you shelled out for a VPN service? Services offered by VPN technologies such as proXPN,  breathes new life to users seeking  privacy and security  as VPN tech advances online security several notches higher by facilitating a private internet subset exclusive to the user, in addition to being at no cost in the proXPN example.

By the way, I have noticed a disturbing trend of some VPN companies being denied service by Visa, Mastercard and Paypal. According to a TorrentFreak article:

“Payment providers are increasingly taking action against sites and services that are linked to copyright infringement. There’s an unwritten rule that Mastercard and Visa don’t accept file-hosting sites that have an affiliate program and PayPal has thrown out nearly all cyberlockers in recent months. It now appears that these policies have carried over to VPN providers and other anonymizing services”.

Is it me or does it seem harder to guarantee personal privacy on the internet anymore. The guardian has a sensational headline about Google’s stunning admission in a court filing  concerning folks who send email to any of Google’s 425 million Gmail users have no “reasonable expectation” that their communications are confidential. Yikes!

Maybe its time time to ditch windows for a linux based flavor like ubuntu. Google already have their own version called Goobuntu and the Chinese government is working with Canonical, the firm behind ubuntu to replicate Canonical’s Ubuntu ‘as the basis for  reference architecture in order to provide a flexible, open, widely-used and standardised operating system’.

The announcement helps strengthen the Chinese government’s five year plan to promote open source software and accelerate the growth of the open source ecosystem within China. I interpret that as a tactic, to slowly wean its population off of microsoft’s windows. Speaking of open source and secure systems, I came across Trsst on Kickstarter. Trsst ‘looks and feels like Twitter but built for the open web: encrypted and anonymized and decentralized; and only you hold the keys. Sounds promising, could this idea enjoy some of the runaway success Bitcoin has had?

Think of Trsst as an RSS reader (and writer) that works like Twitter but built for the open web.  The public stuff stays public and search-indexable, and the private stuff is encrypted and secured.

Technically speaking, Trsst is a working reference implementation that defines a simple and open standard for secure blogging on the open web. Why would you need it? Its creator Michael Powers writes:

At the end of the day, every company you trust – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, or Baidu – is a corporation owned by shareholders and subject to governmental jurisdiction.

  • At any time, the directors and shareholders of these companies may revoke their promises to you about privacy, and they may do so without even notifying you about it.
  • At any time, the governments under which these companies operate may enact legislation that appropriates or nationalizes the data in their possession, including your personally identifying information and stored communications

The only hope we have is a decentralized cryptography-based messaging infrastructure that no government can control where no corporation need be trusted and all communications are encrypted and only you hold the decryption keys. 

John Biggs writing over at Techcrunch doubts the project will get made despite its noble aspirations. He argues  “broadcast technologies like Twitter are already so ubiquitous that the average user wouldn’t move elsewhere – as evidenced by App.net”  That might be the case, but we have to look at the bigger picture. Michael Powers makes an excellent point, about the necessity for secure systems:

“Revolutions are started on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Dissidents, informants, confidential sources, journalists, and those they trust all rely on these services.  Trsst will better preserve their causes, their freedom, their livelihood, and even their lives”. I guess whether or not this project can survive, will be an indicator of how seriously we value our inherent right to privacy online.

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