Some European states likely to put pressure on US over breaches of citizens’ privacy
We want to know clearly what has been going on, says justice commissioner Reding
McIntyre says it may be citizens as well as businesses themselves who force change, either through government pressure or simply changing their products and activities to be more privacy-focused.
Some business-focused pressure is already circulating through the European Parliament, where some MEPs want pending EU-US trade talks to be frozen for two weeks until Europe receives further information from the US on the spying allegations.
McIntyre argues that growing global concerns about privacy may also offer a business opportunity for companies that offer services with greater privacy protection.
Interest has risen in existing companies that offer alternatives to online services such as Google. Gabriel Weinberg, the chief executive of Duck Duck Go, a search engine that claims to anonymise all searches, said Duck Duck Go has had a 33 per cent jump in users since reports emerged about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programmes.
There’s also been some business response. Clearly discomfited by public ire, companies associated with Prism asked the US government for permission to clarify their role and how they respond to data requests. Meanwhile, in the immediate aftermath of the first NSA revelations, 85 organisations came together to set up a new pro-privacy organisation, Stop Watching Us.
“The revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance apparatus, if true, represent a stunning abuse of our basic rights. We demand the US Congress reveal the full extent of the NSA’s spying programmes,” the organisation says in an open letter. Over half a million individuals, organisations and businesses have signed its petition.
Several thousand have signed another requesting NSA spying activities be suspended pending public discussion, put forward by US privacy watchdog the Electronic Privacy Information Centre. The petition has the support of leading privacy advocates and security pioneers, including James Bamford, Whitfield Diffie and Bruce Schneier.
McIntyre says perhaps the only sure route to protect privacy and prevent surveillance is for individuals to choose services and software that block prying eyes. That means using anonymised web browsing programmes and encrypted email and call services.
However, most people are unlikely to shift from services, social media sites and companies they know well and have used for years, especially not to use encrypted email, which can be fiddly and complex.
But there may be hope in a new generation that might have different expectations of governments, technology and data management. In a keynote speech last week at the National College of Ireland’s annual Dotconf social media conference, 20-year-old CoderDojo founder James Whelton argued that young programmers have taken in what has been happening and will build stronger privacy protections into tomorrow’s software, online services and companies. “We’re seeing cultural shift from openness, to being wary about privacy,” he argued.
Politicians should not be making decisions about technologies they do not understand, and governments should serve the people, not large corporations, he said. If the rest of his generation feels the same way, snoopers will have a much harder time in years to come in gathering and perusing personal data – whether legally mandated or not.