Truth is Stranger than Fiction: Authors Join Call for Rights Online

Five hundred (and counting) of the world’s finest authors have signed a call to the United Nations for a digital bill of rights, following Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing on how the US government (and others) use big data technologies to monitor people’s activities on the internet and other networks. The demand is for human rights to be respected in the digital domain, and Netopia can only agree and support this initiative. In fact, it could just as well have been inspired by Netopia’s manifesto!

One point that the authors make is that personal information belongs to each person and not to anyone else. That could seem obvious, but most online services regard user data as their property: it was created on their service after all. It seems, however, that the European Commission will agree more with the authors, as the Data Protection-reform takes the view of the individual users’ rights, including “the right to be forgotten”. This may prove some of the free online services business models difficult to maintain in the longer term. A completely different view was suggested by Cukier & Mayer-Schönberger in the book Big Data earlier this year, that it’s the use and not the collection of data that should be regulated and that companies should be made accountable for any abuse in how they use personal data. Interesting point, but that was before Edward Snowden demonstrated that all databases can leak, one way or other. Your data is never safe, once it has been collected. The only way forward is for governments and internet services to regain the public’s confidence by introducing strong rules on how data can be used. EU’s data protection regulation is a start.

A new Snowden-document reveals that the NSA and GCHQ infiltrated online games like World of Warcraft to look for terrorist activity – not in the game, but with the game as a communication platform. Sounds like an April Fool’s joke, but the date is wrong. To make sure agents did not spy on one another a “deconfliction group” was put in place. Good thing, anyone who read Ghosts (the second part of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy) knows how easily spies end up accidentally targeting each other. Paul Auster is by the way one of the authors that signed the petition, so the governments of the world better listen.

The petition against mass surveillance:

NSA & GCHQ in WoW:

EU data protection regulation: