The New York City Police Department discovered in the computer of a pedophile the complete profile of a 12-year-old girl in Pennsylvania, hundreds of miles away. Through the internet, he knew her friends, classmates, hobbies, pet, cheerleading team and favorite clothing brand. Under a false name, he had friended the girl and her school friends. “He knew more about her than her parents and teachers,” says Goel.
According to investigators, the man had planned to kidnap and abuse the 12-year-old. He very accurately mapped the route she traveled to and from school and all her stops along that route and at what time she made those stops. “He knew all this without ever being near her”.
“The smartphone is the best spying tool ever invented”
A survey of American educational facilities by Kaplan showed that profiles on social media sometimes affect the admission of young people to schools. This includes contacts with friends and relations. Several admissions committees admitted that they sometimes have refused students on the grounds of their social media profile. The same applies to managers, they look increasingly on LinkedIn and Facebook in equal candidates for a job. “You have a clean profile,” says Goel, “but if your internet friends are unsavory, they may choose some other applicant.”
Goel finds it unacceptable that many rights that are guaranteed in the physical world, lack on the Internet. He wants to unleash a new struggle for human rights, but now for the cyber world.
A struggle for privacy rights, copyright and especially the self-determination of the computer user.
Why do companies collect your data? And why are they preserved for eternity?
“Collectively, all of us have built one large jail cell around the world,” says Goel. “And the smartphone is the best spying tool ever invented.” About thirty thousand times per month a mobile phone tells a provider where a phone is located. Because the device is usually in the pocket or handbag’s owner, the provider can determine within a meter’s accuracy which routes a consumer takes. Data stored in databases remains forever.
Last year the FBI was rebuffed by a court for placing GPS trackers under vehicles of suspects which according to the judge was an unauthorized invasion of privacy. Later when the FBI submitted the GPS data of the mobile phones they had acquired from the cell phone carriers, this was accepted as admissible evidence. Why? “Because you are not the owner of the location data of your phone,” says Goel. “Your cell provider is the legal owner. The investigators did not even need to show a court order to recover it. Waving a badge is enough.”
The same applied to the discovery of the love letters from former CIA Director David Petraeus in his gmail account. “If he had received the letters from his mistress through the postal mail, FBI agents would have needed a search warrant from a judge to read them. But because they were emails, the FBI didn’t need court approvals to acquire the emails”, says Goel.
The discovery of those letters cost Petraeus his position as head of the most powerful intelligence agency in the world.
Investigation services on the web are increasing in power.In the Netherlands the parliament discusses about giving the police permission to hack a citizens private computer. If the police should hack on computers of citizens. In Europe the Ministers of justice investigate the possibility of how a criminals server can be infiltrated that is abroad – which usually is the case -, the internet knows no boundaries – without violating the sovereignty of a country. Goel thinks that the sovereignty of the individual citizen is already violated too much.
The American Patriot Act, that came into force after the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 requires each provider to hand over all data on their customers to law enforcement, without notice to their users, when asked by the FBI. The provider cannot inform their users subsequently.
Google has announced that the search engine and Gmail provider in 2012 was forced to provide the personal information of 54 thousand users (from different countries, also from the Netherlands) to investigation services. Other social media sites, like twitter, Facebook and Linked-in, and web shops like Amazon are not publishing what information they had to release. But the total information the police have gathered, will be many, many times more than the 54 thousand of Google that they admit to releasing.
“At least as bad”, Goel says, “is the fact that it is almost impossible to get providers to remove incorrect information about a user from a search engine. Even if someone lies about someone else, removal requires costly litigation or other methods, usually paid for by the victim,” says Goel. “It is the same as the location data from your phone; not you, but the provider is the owner of everything that’s on social media.” A court in New Zealand, required Google to change incorrect information about a NZ citizen, under penalty of $100,000. Google paid the fine.
The same is true for photos that Google was ordered by a judge to delete from the internet, and later still were popping up again. Without realizing it, internet users leave their fate in the hands of browsers and social media.
Goel says “you have no power over your internet content.” “New legislation is required that would decrease the power of Internet companies. The provider should not determine what happens with digital information – users should be able to correct or delete information from these [Facebook, Google, etc] databases”.
Did the digital world become a Big Brother Society?
“It’s not Big Brother, but the Little Sisters that we must fear,” says Goel. “If something happens anywhere, it is published immediately via Smartphone, cameras or social media and lives online forever.”
“We don’t live in a society where one eye watches everyone, but where billions of eyes are increasingly spying on each other. This is a kind of control that even George Orwell could not imagine.”