Encrypted e-mail not secret

Anonymity is often regarded as the best way to secure one’s privacy online, except that the very clashes on a fundamental level with the way the network is set up as our every online action leaves traces in the form of digital footprints, cookies, IP-numbers stored in logs and many other ways. In practice, anonymity is an illusion. Most users take some reassurance in the fact that there is so much data traffic that the risk of being spied on is very little, but big data analytics changes that as Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing on Prism clearly demonstrated. Anonymity is a dead end for privacy online.

For those who may need further evidence to be convinced, consider this comment to The Guardian by data-encryption specialist Phil Zimmerman. Even encrypted e-mail is not safe, Zimmerman says, as e-mail headers are always without encryption to comply with e-mail protocols. So while you may encrypt the actual text, the information on whom you wrote to and when and the subject is out there for anyone to see. Technological solutions to protect anonymity is another dead end.

We must find a different way to think about privacy online. We need democratic institutions to make rules on how our information can be used and keep a short leash on those who use it. Good news that there is progress on data protection legislation in the EU. Bad news it seems to turn a blind eye to the role of technology in this regard.