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Waging the War for Online Privacy Rights

Posted by on Aug 28, 2013

As governments crack down on whistleblowing around the world amidst revelations of massive citizen spying programs, everyday users wonder what they can do to protect their privacy rights. Some have backed strict privacy legislation while others migrate in large numbers to companies that provide strong encryption while protecting user data privacy and identities. But instead of waiting for large-scale systemic change, users can proactively safeguard their sensitive data and identities through secure cloud services. A good cloud service will never host plaintext, will always provide strong encryption, and will never host encryption keys. That way, even if the NSA served the cloud company a subpoena, all the legal snoops would be able to recover are unreadable blocks of data and no knowledge of which accounts belong to which users.

The NSA

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After learning about the NSA’s PRISM program, Internet users have grown to worry about the state of their online privacy rights. A recent study by Annalect surveyed online privacy concerns from June to July in 2013, the period in which news of the PRISM program broke out around the world. Concerns about online privacy amidst the PRISM program grew from 48% in June to 57% in July, for a big increase of 19%. This growth in security awareness has led to an increase in data encryption. As NSA director Keith Alexander testified before the U.S. Senate, “Strongly encrypted data are virtually unreadable.” That’s why the organization is trying to acquire private SSL keys. With such a key, the NSA could crack even the tightest encryption with ease.

According to Declan McCullagh of CNET, “The U.S. government has attempted to obtain the master encryption keys that Internet companies use to shield millions of users’ private Web communications from eavesdropping.” In the light of such revelations it becomes all the more important for cloud services to exclusively store encryption keys on user devices.

How PRISM Might Work

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One legislator fighting back against the rise on governmental snooping is Montana Republican Representative Daniel Zolnikov. His legislation, HB 603, is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and reads “A government entity may not obtain the location information of an electronic device without a search warrant issued by a duly authorized court.” While this is a good first step, the legislation is limited to location information, and doesn’t apply to the actual content of data. Another step towards online privacy is the new stronger language in the Statewide Longitudinal Data System policy of Idaho’s Board of Education. According to the new stricter guidelines, “The privacy of all student level data that is collected by the SLDS will be protected. A list of all data fields (but not the data within the fields) collected by the SLDS will be publicly available. Only student identifiable data that is required by law will be shared with the federal government.” The board’s president Don Soltman, said, “The board recognizes it is essential to provide all the safeguards necessary to ensure that student data are handled with the greatest care, [the board is] committed to protecting the privacy of individual student data and will continue to closely monitor the collection and use of all data.”

PRISM’s Wide Reach

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Such measures are promising steps in the right direction, but don’t provide full protections for basic online privacy rights. Unfortunately, there still isn’t enough public outrage to fuel the wide-reaching legislation necessary to protect online privacy. According to a recent Pew Research survey, about 50% of respondents approve of governmental surveillance of citizen telephone and Internet use. Only 44% disapprove of such legal snooping, despite revelations of the NSA’s PRISM program. Instead of waiting for public outrage to grow or for legislation to enact a universal security standard, users should take privacy into their own hands through exclusively storing sensitive info to a secure cloud service.

Protecting Your Privacy in the Meantime

For most users, finding a truly protected third party cloud service can be a challenge as many “secure” services on the market have security gaps that leave data wide open to third party attacks, leaks, or hacking. One cloud storage and sync service that sets itself apart from the rest of the market is SpiderOak. This service provides colleges with fully private cloud storage and syncing, featuring all of the benefits of the cloud along with 100% data privacy. SpiderOak Blue is available with onsite deployment and private servers or outsourced deployment through a private and secured public cloud server, so that users and small businesses of all sorts and sizes can tailor the service to fit their needs.

SpiderOak protects sensitive user data with 256-bit AES encryption so that files and passwords stay private. Authorized accounts and network devices can store and sync sensitive data with complete privacy, because this cloud service has absolutely “zero-knowledge” of user passwords or data. And all plaintext encryption keys are exclusively stored on approved devices because SpiderOak never hosts any plaintext data. This way, even if programs like NSA’s PRISM continue to stand unchallenged, people can rest easy knowing that their data is truly protected. SpiderOak’s cross-platform private cloud services are available for users on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms, along with Android and iOS mobile devices, allowing for full flexibility and mobile access.

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