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Internet Privacy: Can we have both Privacy and Freedom?

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The discussion, and conflict, over privacy on the Internet won’t end soon. In fact, it is probably just really beginning. While the Data Communications Bill failed, it’s clear the forces behind it are still working on a new version for consideration at a later date. Proponents seemed to have softened their stance, recognising a need for a better balance between personal privacy and information access for law enforcement. Only time will tell exactly what that balance will be.

And the issue is on the forefront around the world. The media continues to sensationalise the chase of Edward Snowden and his eventual asylum in Russia. But what happens to him though, won’t really affect the future of the Internet and privacy. The real issue is still about governments and what access they have to personal communications and account information.

Twice a year Twitter releases its Transparency Report. It shows that over the last year and a half there’s a steady increase in the number of requests from governments to access personal account information. The overwhelming majority come from the U.S. which is no surprise after Snowden’s revelations via WikiLeaks.

Beyond the basic privacy issues raised by Snowden and others, is the question of freedom of information on the Internet. Many governments already censor what their citizens have access to online. Even Prime Minister Cameron is calling for more intervention online in order to protect children and what they see. Few would argue against the benefits of protecting children, but opponents view any regulation of the Internet as a move against our freedoms online.

Is it possible to have the best of it all? Can we protect privacy online, maintain an open and free Internet, while still setting boundaries so law enforcement can use appropriate access to protect us?

One thing’s for sure, the battle is just beginning. And no one knows how it will end.

Oliver Burt

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