Twitter, Facebook, Google Information Share With Government As Well As Advertisers: Just So You Know

In a recent article written by Georgina Prodhan for Reuters, "Internet firms co-opted for surveillance: experts," there's lots of information regarding the number of eyes that are reading and accessing e-mail and online social media sites for their own reasons.  Seems that at the Internet Governance Forum held in Nairobi last month, the growing interest of law enforcement in monitoring personal information on the web was discussed. 

Today in America, there is no cohesive federal law that protects information that is placed upon the Internet in the same way that federal laws protect things like telephone conversations, where longstanding privacy regulations govern wire-tapping access.  What you say on your phone is protected; type it into Twitter, and it's not.  Same sentence, two different venues.  And your favorite internet sites keep all your stuff going back at least two years. 

Privacy really took a back seat after 9-11.  The Patriot Act (amended in 2006) not only expanded the types of records available to government scrutiny, but it made it a lot faster and easier for the government to jump privacy hurdles with things like subpoenas and search warrants.  For more on the Patriot Act, check out information collected by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) (18 USC § 2511) is on the books, but it's a swiss cheese statute, filled with exceptions to privacy and still very much open to interpretation by the various federal appellate courts.  Check out the discussion of its weaknesses at PrivacyRights.Org, where they point out such things as: 

  • Your Internet Service Provider (think Time Warner or AT&T) can turn over private emails to the government if one of the parties to the emails gives their okay, and the other party does not get notice of this.  Sender or receiver: if either one gives the ISP their okey dokey on the release of the communications, then the emails will be disclosed. 
  • Your employer is free to read whatever is found in the company e-mail.  Send from your business email, you do not have an expectation of privacy. 

Law Enforcement Using Internet Intel More and More:  It's Incredibly Cheap and Easy to Monitor Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc.

According to the Reuters article, there's a cost benefit here,too.  Seems that a police officer can sit at his/her desk and monitor Microsoft information as well as Facebook data at no cost (since these two powerhouses will provide their information about an individual for free, upon request).  It's extremely cheap to get the info from Google, too:  Google is reportedly charging $25 (Yahoo, $20). 

Sounds good if they are looking for child pornography, illegal gambling sites, or terrorist activities right?  However, what if they're not? 

Protecting Your Privacy on the Internet Is Your Job:  Privacy Laws Do Not Exist to Do This For You

Can you -- or should you -- consider that anything you put out there on the web is private?  Maybe, maybe not.  For suggestions on how to protect yourself on the web, consider the suggestions made at PrivacyRights.org in their Fact Sheet 18: Online Privacy - Using the Internet Safely.   Here, suggestions are given on protecting yourself and your family in your electronic mail communications, as well as internet browsing, online banking, online shopping and bill pay, as well as social media communications (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). 

Image:  By Joyson Noel at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons this is a photograph taken by an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation of Albanian-American mobster, Alex Rudaj,outside Jimbo's Bar in Astoria, Queens, New York, on April 15, 2003.

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