As all sides in the WikiLeaks saga race to protect their privacy, internet users will lose theirsby Bill Thompson / January 26, 2011 / Leave a comment
The long-term political fallout of the WikiLeaks affair may be more limited than Julian Assange and his supporters would have hoped, but the furore has acted as a catalyst for an unprecedented effort by governments and companies to manage the flow of online information. The eventual impact on the way both sides—those with secrets, and those who wish to reveal them—use the web will be evident. Expect a radically secured, much more tightly-controlled internet, and a growing struggle for the upper hand in the battle for secrecy.
What will change? For a start, we will see major alterations in the way web activity is overseen and controlled. Many of the systems that we use online, including government systems, were designed for efficiency, reliability and adaptability—rather than effective rights management or user tracking. Calls by law enforcement agencies to have all internet usage logged and open to inspection will grow louder. And measures such as the EU data retention directive—which requires communications providers (everyone from mobile phone to internet service providers) to trace and identify sources and recipients of communications, and store that data for up to two years—will be reinforced and extended.
Ultimately, this could mean that every time you send an email, visit a website or tweet, someone will be logging the fact and keeping a record for as long as five years.
Initial attempts to limit the spread of files hosted by WikiLeaks were largely focused on the points where the virtual meets the real, showing the degree to which online activity relies on real-world systems managed by companies that are subject to the rule of law, and sensitive to political pressure—businesses including Visa Europe, PayPal and MasterCard all withdrew their services from WikiLeaks. The whistleblowers’ site was generally accessed through a website which required the things all websites require: a computer to run the server, a disk to store the information, a connection to the internet to transmit the files along with one or more internet addresses, money to pay for all of this, and a domain with a valid entry in the domain name system. Yet though it lost its main web hosting provider and access to funds through major payment services, and was even briefly inaccessible via the wikileaks.org domain, it did not take it long to find alternatives and get back online. In any case, the information had been copied by people willing to…