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Civil Liberties, Core Internet Values, Future of Internet, IGF, Internet, News, privacy, technology

A document from 39 years ago: Western Concern for Privacy in the age of Computers

Common Concerns

[ This was in 1973, 39 years ago, when “when computers ran on steam and the internet was still largely mechanical”. I was led to this document from a message posted by Karl Auerbach in the At Large mailing list today ]

Most of the advanced industrial nations of Western Europe and North America share concerns about the social impact of computer-based personal data systems. Although there are minor differences in the focus and intensity of their concerns, it is clear that there is nothing peculiarly American about the feeling that the struggle of individual versus computer is a fixed feature of modern life. The discussions that have taken place in most of the industrial nations revolve around themes that are familiar to American students of the problem: loss of individuality, loss of control over information, the possibility of linking data banks to create dossiers, rigid decision making by powerful, centralized bureaucracies. Even though there is little evidence that any of these adverse social effects of computer-based record keeping have occurred on a noticeable scale, they have been discussed seriously since the late sixties, and the discussions have prompted official action by many governments as well as by international organizations.

western concern for privacy in the 70sConcern about the effects of computer-based record keeping on personal privacy appears to be related to some common characteristics of life in industrialized societies. In the first place, industrial societies are urban societies. The social milieu of the village that allowed for the exchange of personal information through face-to-face relationships has been replaced by the comparative impersonality of urban living. …

Concern about the effects of computer-based record keeping appears to have deep roots in the public opinion of each country, deeper roots than could exist if the issues were manufactured and merchandised by a coterie of specialists, or reflected only the views of a self-sustaining group of professional Cassandras. The fragility of computer-based systems may account for some of the concern… There are few computer systems designed to deal with the disruption that deliberately lost or mutilated punched cards in a billing system-to give a simple example-would cause. Thus, the very vulnerability of automated personal data systems, systems without which no modern society could function, may make careful attention to the human element transcend national boundaries.

The Response in Individual Nations


On October 7, 1970, the West German State of Hesse adopted the world’s first legislative act directed specifically toward regulating automated data processing. This “Data Protection Act” applies to the official files of the government of Hesse; wholly private files are specifically exempted from control. The Act established a Data Protection Commissioner under the authority of the State parliament whose duty it is to assure that the State’s files are obtained, transmitted, and stored in such a way that they cannot be altered, examined, or destroyed by unauthorized persons…

Thus, the Data Protection Act of Hesse seems designed more to protect the integrity of State data and State government than to protect the interests of the people of the State…


When strong opposition to the 1969 census erupted in Sweden, public mistrust centered not so much on the familiar features of the census itself as on the fact that, for the first time, much of the data gathering would be done in a form specifically designed to facilitate automated data processing. Impressed by the possibility that opposition might be so severe as to invalidate the entire census, the government added the task of studying the problems of computerized record keeping to the work of an official commission already studying policies with respect to the confidentiality of official records.

After a notably thorough survey of personal data holdings in both public and private systems, the commission issued a report containing draft legislation for a comprehensive statute for the regulation of computer-based personal data systems in Sweden.2 The aim of the act is specifically the protection of personal privacy. Its key provisions are these:

  • Establishment of an independent “Data Inspectorate,” charged with the responsibility for executing and enforcing the provisions of the Data Law.
  • No automated data system containing personal data may be set up without a license from the Data Inspectorate.
  • Data subjects have the right to be informed about all uses made of the data about them, and no new use of the data may be made without the consent of the subject.
  • Data subjects have the right of access without charge to all data about them, and if the data are found to be incorrect, incomplete, or otherwise faulty, they must either be corrected to the subject’s satisfaction, or a statement of rebuttal from the subject must be filed along with the data.
  • The Data Inspectorate will act as ombudsman in all matters regarding automated personal data systems.

The Data Law has been passed by the Swedish Parliament and will become effective on July 1, 1973. A transition period of one year will be allowed to implement all the provisions of the law.


Article 9 of the French Civil Code states plainly, “Everyone has the right to have his private life respected. 3 As legal scholars in all countries have noted, however, it is very difficult to define the precise limits of privacy in every case that comes before a court, and in spite of such explicit protection, the privacy of the French, both inside and outside of automated personal data systems, seems in practice no better defended than that of most other people…

One other development on the French scene deserves mention. The 1972 annual report of the Supreme Court of Appeals went considerably out of its way, after reviewing a case of literary invasion of privacy, to comment on the subject of computers and privacy:

… The progress of automation burdens society in each country with the menace of a computer which would centralize the information that each individual is obliged to furnish in the course of his life to the civil authorities, to his employer, his banker, his insurance company, to Internal Revenue, to Social Security, to the census, to university administrations, and, in addition, the data, correct or not, which is received about him by the various services of the police. When one thinks about the uses that might be made of that mass of data by the public powers, of the indiscretions of which that data might be the origin, and of the errors of which the subjects might be the victims, one becomes aware that there lies a very important problem, not only for the private life of everyone, but even for his very liberty.

It appears to us that this eventuality, an extremely probable one, ought to be made the object of consideration of the public power, . . .and that this consideration should take its place among the measures of precaution and of safeguard which should not lack for attention.7

To sum up, the situation in France is complex. The subject of computers and privacy has been given serious attention by a relatively small group of experts, but that group has an influence in government far out of proportion to its numbers. The attitude of the present government is strongly colored by another aspect of the privacy problem: It has been caught in a wiretap scandal, and its defensiveness in that regard appears to be influencing its actions on the computer front. The official report of the present working group is due before the end of 1973, but it does not seem realistic to expect that there will be any definitive action in France before, perhaps, mid-1974.


Britain is unique among the countries reviewed in having recently completed a thorough study of the entire subject of privacy.8 Although the committee in charge of the study, the Younger Committee, was restricted in its terms of reference to private, rather than public, organizations that might threaten privacy, the committee’s report is a model of clarity and concern. In brief, the Committee found that both the customs of society and the Common law had evolved defenses against the traditional intrusions of nosey neighbors, unwelcome visitors, door-to-door salesmen, and the like. Against the new threats of technological intrusions-wiretaps, surveillance cameras, and, of course, computerized data banks-the Committee recognized that the traditional defenses are inadequate. To help deal with the threat of the computer, the Committee recommended specific safeguards to be applied to automated personal data systems, although it left the method of application up to the government to decide. The main features of the safeguards are:

  1. Information should be regarded as held for a specific purpose and not to be used, without appropriate authorization, for other purposes
  2. Access to information should be confined to those authorized to have it for the purpose for which it was supplied.
  3. The amount of information collected and held should be the minimum necessary for the achievement of the specified purpose.
  4. In computerized systems handling information for statistical purposes, adequate provision should be made in their design and programs for separating identities from the rest of the data.
  5. There should be arrangements whereby the subject could be told about the information held concerning him.
  6. The level of security to be achieved by a system should be specified in advance by the user and should include precautions against the deliberate abuse or misuse of information.
  7. A monitoring system should be provided to facilitate the detection of any violation of the security system.
  8. In the design of information systems, periods should be specified beyond which the information should not be retained.
  9. Data held should be accurate. There should be machinery for the correction of inaccuracy and the updating of information.
  10. Care should betaken in coding value judgments.9


In its report, published in late 1972,11 the Canadian Task Force concluded that computer invasion of privacy is still far short of posing a social crisis. However, the rapidly rising volume of computerized personal data and the equally rapidly rising public expectation of a right to deeper and more secure privacy threaten to converge at the crisis level. To forestall that crisis, the Task Force recommends that a commissioner or ombudsman be established in a suitable administrative setting, that carefully prepared test cases on cogent issues be brought before the courts, and that the operation of government data systems be made to serve as a national model.



censorship, IGF, Internet, NetNeutrality, News

S0PA: 387 Indian ISPs must block 104 piratical websites

Indian ISPs ordered to block 104 Websites image from arstechnica.comThe recent Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), considered and eventually abandoned by the US Congress after rancorous debate earlier this year, proposed giving judges the power to cut off American access to particular websites. Under the initial version of the bill, judges would have been able order Internet service providers to use only crude tools like DNS blocking to make piratical websites harder to access. The proposal was criticized strongly on grounds of practicality, due process, and free speech, but major rightsholders want such approaches implemented worldwide. In India, they have succeeded.

A Kolkata court has ordered all 387 Internet providers in the country to block a list of 104 websites after the Indian Music Industry (IMI) filed suit against them. Indian Music Industry officials filed information with the court showing that each of the 104 sites hosted at least some infringing material; the judges ruled that site blocking was a proper way of dealing with the issue. Four injunctions—on January 27, February 6, March 1, and March 2—implemented the blacklist.

Every one of the sites targeted by the music industry was ordered blocked. IMI officials have insisted to local media that they are targeting only the worst offenders, saying that they began their process with 300 websites and eventually narrowed it down to 104 of the most flagrant infringers.

As for how the blocks will be implemented, the court has allowed Internet providers three options: blocking by DNS name (“”), blocking by IP address (“”), or URL blocking by deep packet inspection (which can do things like block specific links like “”).

But site blocking on the Internet, though it sounds so seductively easy, comes with its own set of problems. Blocking by DNS can be circumvented simply by entering a site’s actual IP address instead of its name. Blocking by IP address can be bypassed by moving a site to a new server that carries a new IP address. URL blocking has little effect when an existing site simply changes its name.

These are hardly esoteric technical secrets. One of the first sites to be blocked, “,” has rebranded itself “” Confused users who turn to a Google search for answers will already find that link number one for “” directs them to the new site.

Truly blocking sites from the Internet in this fashion remains difficult, though as usual the goal is more about making infringement more difficult than curtailing all illegal activity. European courts have on occasion required specific sites to be blocked, but those rulings have tended to target one site at a time, and have often been applied only to a single Internet provider. The Indian approach is far broader, and Internet companies like Facebook and Google are coming under legal pressure to censor far more material, including obscene images of gods and goddesses.

The first list of 104 sites largely focuses on regional music; it includes sites like,, and IMI promises that its next targets will include more general-purpose file-sharing sites, however.

Reproduced from arstechnica

IFPI, the international music trade group, welcomed the ruling—but insisted that even such measures did not go far enough. “The court ruled that blocking is a proportionate and effective way to tackle website piracy,” said IFPI chief executive Frances Moore. “The Indian government should build on this progress by moving forward legislation to effectively tackle all forms of digital piracy to enable the country’s digital music market to reach its full potential.”



Future of Internet, Internet, NetNeutrality, News, surveillance, technology

Reporters without Borders name “Enemies of the Internet”

Bahrain and Belarus have been added to Reporters Without Borders’ annual list of “enemies of the internet” They join 10 other nations on the campaign group’s register of states that restrict net access, filter content and imprison bloggers.

India and Kazakhstan have also joined RWB’s list of “countries under surveillance” because of concerns that they are becoming more repressive. The body says 2011 was the “deadliest year” yet for so-called “netizens”. It says at least 199 arrests of internet campaigners were recorded over the year – a 31% increase on 2010. It adds that China, followed by Vietnam and Iran currently hold the largest number of netizens in jail.

Enemies of the Internet

“Enemies of the internet”


  • Bahrain
  • Belarus
  • Burma
  • China
  • Cuba
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vietnam

Bahrain’s government expressed a number of concerns about the report, which it said failed to “present the reality of the situation” there.

Several positive steps had been taken towards reforming the media sector since the publication of a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) into last year’s crackdown on anti-government protests, it said, including relaxing censorship and increasing the range of political opinions in the media.

In Belarus, the campaign group says, President Alexander Lukashenko’s government has increased the number of blocked websites and arrested some bloggers while inviting others to “preventative conversations” with the police during which they are pressured not to cover protests.

It says the regime has also used Twitter to send messages designed to intimidate demonstrators. It adds that the country’s main internet service provider has diverted users to sites containing malware when they tried to log into the Vkontakte social network.

Elsewhere RWB accuses China and Syria of hiring bloggers to troll sites containing posts from cyber-dissidents, and then flood the pages with messages supporting the governments.

It raises concern that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced plans to create a “clean” web with its own search engine and messaging service, and says Vietnam has attacked Catholic networks and campaigners trying to raise awareness about environmentally damaging bauxite mines.

From a BBC report
News, technology

EFF argues that patents hinder innovation

Patents may have been created to help encourage innovation, but instead they regularly hinder it. The US Patent Office, overwhelmed and underfunded, issues questionable patents every day. “Patent trolls” buy too many of these patents and then misuse the patent system to shake down companies big and small. Others still use patents to limit competition and impede access to new knowledge, tools, or other innovations.

It’s no wonder that small businesses and individual inventors find it almost impossible to make the patent system work in their favor, often leaving them without any defense against competitors with giant patent arsenals and litigation budgets.

eff argues that patents hinder progressFrom the Electronics Frontiers Foundation Web.  Views expressed in this blog post are that of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.