Watching the Europeans

I recently read about a Europe-only science cloud here. This is Europe-only due to lack of assured privacy for servers based in America. This is not because American severs are less secure to hackers, they are not at all. Rather it is due to the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001" known to humans as the Patriot act which in a nutshell states that an American server's content must be shared with American legal agencies if requested. This act is so ridiculously widespread in its scope that it applies even if the server and users have almost no link to America. Strictly this is what it applies to:
"Any data which is housed, stored or processed by a company, which is a U.S. based company or is wholly owned by a U.S. parent company."
so in other words the vast majority of the web falls under the jurisdiction of this American act.

My Google plus account, Facebook account, Twitter account, Android photos, Google web searchs, Dropbox files, Apple icloud stuff etc etc are all totally searchable by various American agencies as Microsoft itself cheerfully admitted. Most of these services encrypt your data which helps block malevolent individuals attacking your privacy. However if the service providers are asked by the American agencies they will hand over both your files and the encyption key, screw your privacy desires. Only Twitter has the decency to even inform you as you can read here. Many of the services mentioned will not work or actually block me if I attempt to protect against this by either anonymizing myself or personally encrypting my data. So my option is either use these services and accept that American agencies can search all my data or go without. You could say why don't you use X, where X is a good secure alternative with the same features. Well my friend basically X does not exist.

None of the above services I listed are exactly little pet projects. They are massive well established commericial products owned by companies which aggressively block any new entrants in their space. The blocking can be by buying out competitors, aggressive marketing or (my personal favourite) tying the new company up in legal battles over ridiculously obvious patents. Make no mistake no matter what the companies say they all hate competition bar that which is so small to be ignorable. Competition drives prices down and this affects the bottom line. Commercial entities before all else will protect their bottom line by all means at their disposal.

We are being watched and recorded but so? My usage being recorded doesn't annoy or worry me. If I knew with certainty only say Google could use its copy of my data on its services or sell access to statistics based on it I would actually be okay with this. I perfectly understand the free service model so common these days. Provide a great service and you have to finance it by selling usage stats. and giving "bill board space" to advertisers. Still, no single user has his privacy compromised as their content is never sold and his patterns are anonymized within the stats. Companies who buy google-level data really are not interested in one individual's content anyway but rather patterns in the data which they can exploit. I have no issue with this predictable use (as I said think about the bottom line and all companies are all as predictable as death). If the American agencies wanted this type of access they have always been able to buy this like anyone else. What the Patriot act grants is something different. It grants the American agencies free access to all the content on an individual of interest. This type of access will not be used to work out online patterns indictating who might be bad. Instead it will be used when you decide someone is bad and you want all possible information on them.

Now I sound overly negative about America so let me pause to say if I was forced to leave Europe it would be America I would look to first. I just like America. It's has amazing scenery, reasonable founding principles, many many progressive people, amazing cities, inspiring tech. companies and ... well you get the point. However for what's its worth I don't trust the American government or their agencies. I believe they often abuse their citizens liberties, flaunt international law and are effectively a mere front for the interests of some of the biggest nastiest commercial companies out there. I trust the relatively friendly American tech. companies Google/Apple/MS etc a lot more and I trust my own highest court, ultimately the European courts, far far far more. Fools will tell you that you only have to worry if your doing something bad online. It's so daft a view it's scarcely worth addressing but in the interests of completeness. What is bad is entirely subjective and no matter who you are I guarantee you won't see eye to eye with American agencies on everything. American history is littered with politically motivated attacks on individuals with differing views to them. I don't see any evidence that this is reducing and the Patriot act has massively expanded their reach.

Imagine Senator McCarthy had had access to the private data of every netizen. It's a terrifying thought and things haven't improved much in this regard. For example there are plenty of American politicians queuing up to start a new witch hunt for atheists. If a crazy person who was an atheist blew up a building in America and you [another atheist for the purposes of this example] had chatted to him on Twitter the night before would you trust America not to extradite you as a scape goat. I wouldn't and I think your naive as hell if you would. Interestingly you can replace "atheist" with "Muslim" and this example is just as strong or posibly stronger.

Within the european union (EU) we think we have strong online rights and good data protection rights. Germany in particular hammers online tech. companies for tracking us and retaining data when we use their free services. However the ideals of data protection the EU supposedly aspires to are only possible if you are in total denial about the Patriot Act's existence.

Frankly if this is not addressed soon I think it might be time to start cutting links to American tech. services and start making EU-law compliant clones. It might sound isolationist and harsh but why should the EU accept American companies forcing American law on EU netizens at the expense of their EU rights. It certainly would not happen in reverse. If an American product cannot adhere to EU laws it should be blocked in the EU. If the American companies refuse or legally cannot change they are not exercising their patents. In this case we should support EU based start ups who implement EU compliant clones using their unguarded IPR. In reality of course this would never happen. If it looked like happening the American tech. companies would pressure their government and get things changed immediately then buy up the EU start ups. However unless we start demanding our rights that won't happen. So start thinking about it now and when you have a choice go with Europe alone if you value privacy.