We nearly all believe that our private communications across the Internet are secure and safe.  We rightly feel that it is our right to have this privacy.  Our e-mails and the websites we visit should be our own private business.  But what about when national security is at stake or criminal actions may have been perpetrated.  Should the security services not have the power to intercept and read our e-mails to prevent terrorist activities? Should the police not have the power to check servers up the line to see if they can find out who is responsible for Internet banking crimes?

In fact they do have the power, and the security services generally do scan our e-mails, text messages and mobile phone calls, by using computers which look for the digital patterns representing key phrases used in terrorist and criminal activities, thus allowing the police to apprehend suspects based on these calls and mails. When the FBI announced that they had found over one thousand paedophiles living in Britain because they had accessed Internet sites in the USA and traced them by tying in their computer’s IP address with the phone number that had been dialled from, there was general disbelief that they had managed to do that, and then delight that such people could be caught in this way.

Celebrities and stars believe they have a right to privacy on the Internet and the same laws that protect them in the press protect them on the Internet.  One pop singer won a court case and damages against a website that had published pictures of her that she had no knowledge of and that she totally disapproved of.

Although we believe in having privacy on the Internet we generally approve of measures taken by the security services to monitor terrorists and catch criminals.

Privacy and encryption

Where can we expect privacy when using ICT?  Already we have seen that text messages, mobile calls, e-mail and Internet usage can all be monitored by security organisations, but it is even more scary to think that criminals are using technology to try and intercept and read personal information.

If we are to trust on-line shopping, which demands that we pay by credit or debit card, then the on-line vendors must apply security to their site.  To do this they have to ensure that the card number is encrypted when it leaves the shopper’s computer until it arrives safely at the vendor’s website.

There are different encryption methods available but probably the best is provided by software called PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) which uses a 32-bit encryption procedure.  This is generally agreed to be unbreakable and is used by good on-line retailers who will usually advertise the fact. They may also subscribe to a code of practice (like the Which? Code for Internet Shopping) that is based on PGP and 32-bit encryption.




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