Recently, U.S. Congress blocked a set of new rules proposed by the FCC that would further restrict how Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) could share web traffic information. This has sparked public outrage amongst Americans who are afraid that their internet traffic will become publicly available for purchase. AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon have responded to public outcry stating that their customers have nothing to worry about. The issue of internet traffic and data being sold to third parties is not new to the rest of the world, but global concerns usually focus on government surveillance and censorship.
Government infringement on internet privacy is not only reserved for regimes; it is common practice in most of the world on the basis of preventing and solving crime. No matter which world government conducts these types of activities there is always the possibility of abuse. Countries who have a track record for censorship, like North Korea, have close to no privacy on the internet. Those who do have access are limited to the 28 websites that North Korea hosts within the country.
China, a country of 1.3 billion people with 731 million internet users, takes such an active role in censorship that critics have named it “The Great Firewall of China.” Critics of the Chinese government are the main targets of censorship, often preventing news of protests from reaching the outside world.
Recently Russia has passed new legislation that requires logging and tracking on all web traffic and data that passes through Russian territories or is created by Russian citizens. These laws passed in the name of security have can be harmful to businesses, forcing companies to purchase and maintain additional IT infrastructure in order to comply. Companies like Private Internet Access, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service provider, responded to the change in policy by pulling all of their business from Russia.
Nordic countries such as Sweden and Switzerland are highly regarded as safe havens for internet privacy. This makes them a business hotspot for companies and individuals who are looking to keep their data secure. This not only is beneficial for the security minded but also those who wish to hide their illegal activity.
In a recent report The Office of the United States Trade Representative named Switzerland an internet privacy haven. This is due to difficulties in tracking those who break U.S. copyright laws since Swiss courts consider information such as IP addresses personal information and therefore prohibited from being tracked.
Those who want to keep their internet traffic private, have some tried and tested options for keeping their data secure. The first practice is that you should never send any personal information to a website that is not secure, or transmitted via HTTP instead of HTTPS. Most internet browsers will show a locked padlock next to the website address to let you know that the connection is secure.
If you are trying to hide the websites that you are visiting, using a VPN service can obfuscate your web traffic even from your internet service provider. VPN’s work by encrypting your web traffic and sending it out of servers at another physical location. Several providers offer free VPN services but be wary that you get what you pay for and those providers may be selling your web traffic.