When I brought up in a conversation the issue regarding the measures intended to be taken by some governments, in particular the access to Internet connection records foreseen in the UK draft Investigatory Powers Bill, I was quite surprised to realise that some people around me seemed to accept that online privacy should be curtailed in order to ensure stronger security, a view with which I strongly disagree.
But more importantly for this post, they did not consider it excessively intrusive.
And then I just realised that, none withstanding the fact that Internet is an intrinsic part of our daily lives, many are simply clueless about the detailed digital fingerprint they leave behind, website after website visited, and how much revealing that is.
It never ceases to amaze me how, in this Internet dependent era, so many people actually ignore how much information regarding their lives, habits, and ultimately, their privacy is at stake.
One thing is to ponder the pros and cons of registering in a website or downloading an app and take a decision accordingly. Another completely different is to simply be unaware of the risks, to not wonder: what is done with this information?… And subsequently take completely unaware decisions and form and convincingly express their opinions on flawed grounds.
Let’s be clear here: to have access to someone’s Internet connection records is to have access to their Internet browsing history!
Yes, the very same some people delete for the most various reasons, but that essentially amounts to one and only: for it not to be known.
Now consider that there is little in our real life that does not reflect in our online activities. From booking flights and hotels, buying books and clothes, or other less random items, online dating, participating in discussion groups and forums, ‘googling’ in general… Imagine, for instance, googling a specific health condition that is worrying you…
And what can be inferred and the correlations which can be made from those searches and websites accessed… From your interests, to your lifestyle, to your personal life and your health…
And, yes, that includes the most embarrassing little details that your browsing history can reveal.
In this context, I would say that the time and amount of times you visited a website would be the less worrisome but even these can be quite informative, if a pattern emerges.
Only someone who is not familiar at all with the concept of ‘profiling’ of interests and behaviour and the detailed conclusions which can be reached can argue that the access to the browsing history is not sufficiently revealing and intrusive to raise any concerns from a privacy viewpoint.
This is not about having ‘something to hide’ or ‘anything to be ashamed of’. It is about unwilling exposure and the complete unaware loss of privacy. Even for those who truly believe to be utter uninteresting, there is certainly something they would rather keep secret. And it is that little bit that should be considered before taking a stance on the issue of government surveillance.