OECD Conducts Meeting to Discuss the Future of Internet

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The OECD is having a two day meeting during June 28th and 29th  dedicated to discuss the issues of Internet regulations and further tendencies of web development. The participants at the meeting are government ministers, industry experts and business leaders.

The main question that is to be discussed during the meeting is the implementation of Internet regulations that will facilitate the development of the web and at the same time will protect online privacy, web anonymity and intellectual property. Protecting Internet privacy and online security are of crucial importance and web censorship should not destroy them, but preserve and maintain them.

Among the other topics at the meeting are the increment of broadband access and competition, and the protection of Internet openness, especially in non-democratic countries where governments deprive users of Internet access or implement tough forms of censorship that prevent the dynamism and growth of the web.

While preparing the meeting, the OECD has released several documents, such as Communications Outlook 2011, National Broadband Plans, Next Generation Access Networks and Market Structures and Fibre Access – Network Developments in the OECD Area.

According to the OECD, “this high-level meeting builds upon the OECD Ministerial on The Future of the Internet Economy held in Seoul, Korea in June 2008. Drawing together leaders from all stakeholder communities, this new meeting aims to continue fostering the development of the Internet economy.”


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Internet Deprives People of their Privacy

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There is an opinion that anonymity is an integral part of the Internet, but a lot of examples show that nowadays web anonymity is disappearing. The collective intelligence of Internet users, as well as digital fingerprints, make it possible for everyone to be identified if their sensitive information, including photos, videos and e-mails, is made  public.

Such destruction of anonymity is the result of the availability of social media services and video web hosts. Social media sites require that people provide their real identities and make their users’ private life more public that it has ever been. Susan Crawford, professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, claims that “Humans want nothing more than to connect, and the companies that are connecting us electronically want to know who’s saying what and  where. As a result, we’re more known than ever before.”

There are different attitudes towards loss of anonymity and privacy. On the one hand, this phenomenon has a lot of positive effects. For example, it can facilitate the identification of criminals, disproval of fraud and even help people become popular all over the world.

But, nevertheless, a lot of people prefer to protect their online privacy and do not want to unveil their identity. Moreover, users from countries with repressive regimes are afraid that certain private information could affect their  future life and career should it become available. That’s why they use the best VPN services to stay protected online.


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INET Conference Raised the Question of Internet Safety

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There were a plenty of topics discussed at the Internet Society NY INET conference. The members of the conference debated the questions of protecting internet privacy, safety web browsing and availability of internet access. One of the key speakers of the conference Vint Cerf accentuated that nowadays it is very important to provide safety mechanisms that will protect us from cybercriminals on the one hand and will guarantee freedom of expression and keeping of anonymity on the other hand.

A lot of organizations including ISOC try to create international policies and technologies that will be able both to protect users’ online anonymity and to identify those who commit internet crimes. This is very difficult task to satisfy competing concerns and provide protection of people’s rights on internet.

There are a lot of cases when people have to use high anonymity web to protect their identity from hackers or repressive authorities. They do everything possible to remain anonymous. However, strong identification is essential while doing online shopping or banking. It is obvious that everyone will prefer to fill in a long application form in order to prevent money theft by the third party that has stolen your ID.

Cerf suggests that strong authentication can provide users reliable protection from spam or viruses because in this case people can accept e-mails and files only from trustworthy sources. He also believes that in order to stop cybercrime we need to develop international agreements that will be accepted by all states.


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New Report on Cybersecurity

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Last week the US Department of Commerce released a report entitled “Cybersecurity, Innovation and the Internet Economy.” This report appeared after the range of Internet security policy recommendations developed by the Obama administration.

The document emphasizes the importance of the companies providing online services for the development of the economy. Gary Locke, Secretary of Commerce, claimed that their "economy depends on the ability of companies to provide trusted, secure services online. As new cybersecurity threats evolve, it's critical that we develop policies that better protect businesses and their customers to ensure the Internet remains an engine for economic growth."

The paper offers ways to strengthen security for companies that do the major part of their businesses on the Internet, like social networks, providers of online services and cloud computing firms. Such companies are included in the “Internet and Information Innovation Sector” (I3S).

To reinforce internet security and reach a high level of web anonymity and online privacy protection, the report gives some recommendations. First of all it is important to implement voluntary codes of conduct to eliminate security vulnerabilities. For example, for better protection companies may start using automated security or Domain Name System Security (DNSSEC) protocols. Moreover, it is of crucial importance to enhance international exchange of cybersecurity best practices and develop incentives for the companies to succeed in this sphere.

Use the following link to read the report: http://www.nist.gov/itl/upload/Cybersecurity_Green-Paper_FinalVersion.pdf.


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Do Sites like WikiLeaks Guarantee Anonymity?

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Nowadays there are a lot of sites created after the example of WikiLeaks. The most popular of them are Al Jazeera Transparency Unit and SafeHouse, launched by the Wall Street Journal. There are also a lot of regional sites such as Balkanleaks, Indoleaks and Brusselsleaks.

All these web sites support publicity and freedom of speech but very often they don’t guarantee anonymity to the users providing information. For example, the Wall Street Journal promises to protect its sources but at the same time SafeHouse terms of use read the following: "We reserve the right to disclose any information about you to law enforcement authorities or to a requesting third party, without notice, in order to comply with any applicable laws and/or requests under legal process."

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former WikiLeaks member and IT security expert, does not recommend using such sites because "they are insecure to begin with and people haven't thought about this properly before they started to run such a site." Recently Domscheit-Berg has created his own web site called OpenLeaks, that serves as a mediator between users providing information and media organizations that make it public.

However, to protect your online anonymity and privacy it’s better to use special tools that were developed to these purposes. The most popular of them are VPN and Tor. Tor isa  free software but it is not as secure as the best VPN services that you pay for. It doesn’t secure the whole session of data transmission, that’s why it is possible that your sensitive information will be compromised. VPN services, on the contrary, create a secure tunnel for the entire data transfer and minimize the risk of hackers’ attacks.


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Internet Censorship Spreads all over the World

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The Internet has already become the most popular tool for mass communication. Every year the number of people using Internet grows, but at the same time more and more governments implement online censorship in their countries. Nowadays there are about 40 countries that have web censorship; compared to 2002, when there were only four.

Protecting internet privacy is of crucial importance for users from different places. That’s why some people consider any form of government intrusion to be a violation of their rights. But others think that every freedom should have its limits and admit that some restrictions are reasonable, for example the prohibition of child pornography.

However, the toughest censorship usually is used in countries with repressive regimes such as China, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Iran. The repressive governments use censorship to achieve their own latent goals, to prevent protests and to find people that disagree with their policies. Usually, web sites that can jeopardize the current regime are banned in these states.

There are a lot of countries where only a limited number of users have Internet access. We have already reported about the situation in Syria, Cuba, North Korea, Yemen and many other countries where people are not allowed to visit the majority of sites. Many users in these countries have to bypass restrictions with the help of the best VPN services available, that provide them with secure browsing and the guarantee of high-end web anonymity.


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Will Canadian Government Ban Web Anonymity and Hyperlinks?

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The Canadian government is going to enact the Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act. The Act contains points that violate the rights of Internet users. For example, this bill will put the Canadian users in legal jeopardy for the content of a webpage they link to and will make web anonymity illegal.

A summary of the bill, placed on the Library of Parliament’s website, reads that “Clause 5 of the bill provides that the offences of public incitement of hatred and wilful promotion of hatred may be committed by any means of communication and include making hate material available, by creating a hyperlink that directs web surfers to a website where hate material is posted…”

This point of the bill makes people scared of placing hyperlinks, because they will be legally responsible for the content of a destination webpage, even if it was changed after the link was created. According to the bill, Canadians will not be able to create a blog, because it will be open for public comments and anyone can place a link which the blogger will be responsible for. That’s why, to blog safely, a Canadian should disallow any links.

Moreover, according to Clause 11 of the bill, Canadian users will not be allowed to use aliases while “sending false information, indecent remarks or “harassing” messages”. It makes everybody who use an alias on the Internet  a criminal and jeopardizes web anonymity. This clause also makes it possible for the government to identify and criminalize any user for placing information disapproved of by the authorities.


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Internet Disconnection Due to Syrian Protests

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In December 2010 Imad Sabouni, Syrian Minister of Telecommunications and Technology,  stated that Internet censorship was not a solution. He said that it was more important to raise the awareness of Internet users. But he also pointed out that there are Internet blocking systems in all countries.

Nevertheless, the censorship never abated. About more than two hundred websites were blocked. The contents affected involved political criticism, religious issues, etc. In addition to filtering a wide range of Web content, the Syrian government monitored  the use of Internet. The Syrian government claimed that its aim is to prevent "denominational unrest" and any attempt at infiltration on the part of Israel.

But it seems that it was useless. Opponents of the current Syrian regime organized protests all over the country. Facebook is the place where the protests were organized; the participants were also motivated by reels of the government crackdown placed on such sites as YouTube.

As a result, the authorities disconnected the Internet in some parts of the country in order to prevent the spreading of anti-government information and to boicot the creation of new movements. Google’s most recent Internet traffic report from Syria clearly demonstrates a falloff in data traffic.

Syrian government also blocked Internet access in regions of military operations before the protest in Hama, but after that disconnection has become more widespread. Two-thirds of all the networks in Syria were unavailable just after the protests.

Many users have to use alternate ways to access blocked websites and stay anonymous. VPN connections are the most popular. They provide web anonymity and give the opportunity to bypass government restrictions. Fast VPN services facilitate uploading of videos to the sharing sites, and favor the spread of information. But even VPN cannot help if the internet connection is dropped.


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UN Considers Internet Access to be a Human Right

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The United Nations (UN) assume that Internet access is an inalienable human right and consider  that to be disconnected from the web is a violation of human rights and international laws. A report of the UN Human Rights Council’s 17th session says that Internet gives people an opportunity to exploit a lot of human rights and that it favors the progress of humankind.

La Rue, a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, claimed that “the Internet enables individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders”. That’s why he considers an Internet cutoff to be unacceptable. 

Internet restrictions are necessary and justifiable in such areas as child pornography, but in many cases governments use blocking or filtering mechanisms to achieve their own hidden agenda. According to the report , it  should be an independent judicial authority or body who defines the scope of Internet censorship.

La Rue is deeply concerned that Internet users have only relative web anonymity, because governments can monitor and collect private information about them. This intervention violates people’s right to online privacy and smashes Internet security.

The report also incites governments to include trainings on Internet literacy in school curricula, because it can “help individuals learn how to protect themselves against harmful content, and explain the potential consequences of revealing private information on the Internet”.


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e-G8 Forum in France

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy has organised the e-G8 forum, and has invited personalities like Mark Zuckerberg,  co-founder of  Facebook, Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, Jeff Bezos, Chief Executive of Amazon and other famous and powerful names in the circle of Internet and media.

Participants of the forum are going to discuss issues such as Internet regulations, the influence of the Internet on society and economy, protection of Internet privacy, protection of copyright and the right to web anonymity. The results of the event will be reported to the G8 Summit, that opens in Deauville later this week.

The delegates have different opinions about governmental regulation of the Internet. Google and Amazon consider  the interference of governments to be unacceptable, because it violates users’ rights. European companies, on the other hand, think that it is necessary to control the Internet in order to eradicate cybercrime.

In a speech given last year, Nicolas Sarkozy showed his vision of the problem: "The Internet is the new frontier, a territory to be conquered. But it cannot be like the Wild West. It cannot be a lawless place, where people are allowed to pillage artistic works with no limits".


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