The destruction of privacy
We have to accept that probably someone is spying us. And not only someone is controlling the data we publish on the Internet (our intimacy that we disclose more or less knowing that “what is uploaded cannot be de-uploaded”), but even our private or secret communications (PRISM). The retention of Internet data traffic (eg data from our emails) is a generalized measure based on the interest to protect national security and the investigation of serious crimes. So, either whether we are criminals or exemplary citizens, there is some place in the world where someone has stored our conversations, that’s a fact.
INTERNET DATA RETENTION IS NOT THE SOLUTION
The paradox, however, is that the retention of internet traffic data does not guarantee that we are safer. That widespread espionage is useless in the defense of the interests of the general public.
Despite the popularity of Big Data, we have the eternal problem of the management and treatment of these data which is just too difficult to handle and, thus, to find what is really important. Controlling everyone makes everyone a suspect and therefore criminals can hide among a larger group of targets and go unnoticed. Some years ago I heared the Director of the european Cybercrime Research Institute, Professor Marco Gercke, talking about how indiscriminate retention of Internet data traffic can prevent from using traditional investigation technics.
Monitoring all internet communications and storing them is just the same as putting a camera that films the interior of every house so that if a murder is comitted we can review all the footage and find the assassin. If we trust these investigation methods (like in the Spanish criminal system which relies too heavily on the confession of the detainee as a major evidence), then we will abandon and not improve more effective investitgacion technics.
The scenario reminds us of 1984 society (George Orwell) or the dystopia of We (Yevgeny Zamyatin) but if you have read any of the two novels you will know that there security is not precisely what is guaranteed but absolute control of the lives of citizens, it encourages something different and more dangerous, because control serves to ensure the safety of “some” people but not all.
It is useless to technically criticize espionage of secret services, as it is a political choice and has nothing to do with law. The legality of the intelligence and secret services is always a tailored law outside the control of the judiciary and even the parliament. If society believes that it is necessary to maintain “official secrets” then there will be excluded parcels of knowledge to citizenship and therefore immunity to the ask for liability.
HOW DATA RETENTION CAN HELP INDIVIDUALS
For “normal” people data retention gives no special advantage or protection. Many times in my practice as a criminal lawyer I have found the distressing evidence that technology never works when individuals need it.
Surveillance cameras or computer data is never there when needed, and the requirements for a citizen to use computer investigation are harder than when the investigation is lead by the State. Judges really deeply analyze the mandatory requirement of “serious offense” prior to submit an investigation, and the proportionality of the measure of investigation. A person victim of libel in the internet is much less likely to find out who is the author of the insult because the facts are not important enough to motivate a judicial technological research.
And if you do not want your data to be controlled, then in the future there will be no choice but to use encryption techniques (such as Assange’s book Cypherpunks defends with the foreword by Enrique Dans) although being honest it seems unlikely that anything is protected from the interference of the Big Brother or hacker’s expertise, and we just have to take some examples from everyday news such as the control of TOR network or the recent theft of Bitcoins.
So we better not talk too much.