In the internet age we are observing explosion of data and information. As one mentioned other day we as an individual are subject to 174 newspaper equivalent worth of information daily. The challenge is how we filter it to may be just one and absorb some part at a granular level.
That is one side of explosion. We often see other side as well i.e. carriers of information. The role of the media, internet sites and social network providers, the companies that host information on cloud world etc. are debated continuously on. The debate can be on various aspects from their moral responsibility to quality of information, relevance, censorship-free speech, security, privacy etc. These aspects overlaps sometime.
Now the third party is steadily emerging in this world of provider – consumer direct relationship. Yes, you guessed it correct! The third actor is law enforcing agencies a) Government i.e. its executives and Police and b) Judiciary using Electronic Content Privacy Act (ECPA) in US or its cousin in some form in US countries. It’s a three ways balancing equation that is being played by these actors here. The role of Governments may not be clean always though apparently it is painted as ‘for the people’ or ‘for national security’ by respective authority.
Google, Microsoft and likes are coming up with their Transparency reports on various aspects of internet censorship in the ways of content removal, request for account information, request for content of personal mails of an individual, blocking of sites or part of the services offered.
Let’s look at the stats. As per Google user data requests have soared to over 21000 in 2012 from 14000 in 2009. Content removal requests soared from around 1000 to 1800 during the same period. Copyright removal requests came in millions.
Of the total removal requests approx. 42% are due to court orders and 58% is by government executives. 39% of the content removals were related to defamation and 20% were related to privacy and security infringement. One worrying factor is criticism of Government amounting to 4% of removal where complaints were filed by Government executives. This part is rising apparently! Also we have observed Governments taking unilateral decision to block these sites during the time of internal political turbulence.
As per Microsoft’s transparency report published recently there were 56000 cases of non-content requests 66% of which came from USA, UK, Germany, France and Turkey. 1600 content related cases were faced by Microsoft 99% of which came from USA.
Many are raising question on the intent of various Governments i.e. its execs, cops and other agencies. As far as Judiciary raising such questions in democratic countries there may not be that much of debate. There is a correlation of national security and number of requests but it may be debated by many as there is no standard of way of assessing across the Governments. China, Syria, India or USA or any other country has their own calibration for complaints and threshold to take various aspects of internet information for their own purposes.
Who are at risk? Of course, the consumers, who put their personal data and information on good faith on the websites. Most of them are law abiding citizens in their respective countries yet they may be at risk of getting exposed to Governments will intention or misuse of the data by rogue traders.
Internet players like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and the likes have huge roles to play to safeguard the information in most of the cases. They have to have a set of rigorous processes to assess the question, process it, keep the parties noted, intentions judged thoroughly and must have achieved a level of transparency of sharing information with givers and acceptors of information before sharing any information.