Stop watching – users fight for privacy

Thousands of US and German citizens have protested against online snooping

Rally in Washington DC (Frank Bryan Facebook)

Rally in Washington DC (Frank Bryan Facebook)

In Washington DC they gathered at the monument to Christopher Columbus before marching to Capitol Hill and in Cologne the demonstrators massed at the main railway station. October 27th was chosen as it marks the twelfth anniversary of the US Patriot Act which gave the anti-terrorism authorities new powers as a response to the events of September 11th 2001. Hollywood celebrities, politicians and other National security Agency whistleblowers are supporting the campaign …

In Germany there was indignation when documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were published, revealing that the American security services were bugging the mobile phone of their Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has personally protested to President Obama. One of their slogans says:”Do we have to be Angela Merkel before you’ll respect our rights?” Merkel herself has called on the United States government to agree a pact by the end of the year.


Mozilla has just launched a new online tool to enable users to watch who is watching them. Called Lightbeam, the free download shows a visualisation of all the websites visited, and all the third-party sites that have logged those visits and passed on the information to commercial companies. However, the data trail revealed does not include evidence of spying by security services.


Mozilla’s Head of Privacy Alex Fowler and CEO Mark Surman previewed the Lightbeam tool ahead of its official launch on Peter Warren’s radio show, PassWord with Peter Warren on Resonance 104.4FM Fowler and Surman explain that their aim in creating Lightbeam is to start a three-pronged attack on the way governments and big corporations exploit the private data of individual citizens Lightbeam security The three prongs are: technology, policy and education.


They are the themes of the annual MozFest gathering at Ravensbourne university in London  where Alex Fowler explained to FI’s Jane Whyatt that this is a ‘Wizard of Oz‘ moment for the Web.Mozilla’s Lightbeam project  The company aims to gather users’ own daily logs from Lightbeam to provide evidence to privacy campaigners of the extent of commercial data harvesting and sharing with third-parties. Fowler is quick to point out that the default setting on Lightbeam is ‘off” so users would need to opt in to this crowd-sourcing project if they so chose.

Lightbeam, a free download, works with the Firefox search engine on PC or Mac.

Bill of Rights

Meanwhile the groundswell of public opinion in favour of privacy and anonymity on the Internet has re-floated the longstanding campaign for a Bill of Rights for social network users. This movement – founded at a conference in California’s Silicon Valley in 2010 – ran aground when the big corporations such as Facebook and Twitter refused to take it seriously. Journalist and privacy campaigner Christina Zaba was at that conference and she explained to FI’s Jane Whyatt what should be in the Internet’s Magna Carta The SNUBOR Charter

Zaba believes that every user of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn  and other networking sites should have the right to control his or her online data,based on the 14 – point SNUBOR charter. She says that although we choose to reveal our personal details we cannot make informed choices about how they are used.Christina Zaba SNUBOR Ts and cs. The text of the Bill of Rights is available on the website of the annual Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference According to Christina Zaba, the SNUBOR now has supporters across the UK and Australia as well as in the UK.


European campaigners have a different focus, with Austrian law student Max Schrems battling Facebook in the courts. Schrems explains in his FAQs that he was studying in the US and realised that the American concept of privacy is different from the European model. To test this theory, he asked Facebook to send him all his data  and was annoyed to find that even details he had deleted were still on file. Since Facebook hosts its European operation in Ireland, Schrems complains to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes about the invasion of his privacy and also about Facebook’s co-operation with the PRISM spying operation  The Irish High Court has orderd the DPC  act on PRISM and Schrems’s supporters are hailing this as a victory – on their Facebook page!