2000 Roundup: Privacy under attack

It's been a year of mixed fortunes for those wanting to protect their privacy online

The government passed one of its most controversial pieces of surveillance legislation ever during 2000 while the FBI revealed its own online snooping tools. Don't underestimate the civil liberties campaigners though...

At the start of the year, the finger was pointed at online advertiser Doubleclick, accused of tracking the habits of Internet users above and beyond the call of duty. The firm was forced to scale back its marketing plans and the EU and US have since worked to establish a standard for sharing personal data.

It was not just marketing companies coming in for flack, either. The UK government was viciously and continuously criticised over the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill. Human rights groups, industry bodies and the Conservative Party voiced concerns over the privacy implications of the legislation, which aimed to give police powers to snoop on email traffic and Internet browsing at ISPs and confiscate the keys used for encrypted messages.

Nevertheless, in May, the Bill passed through the House of Commons. Still, thanks to the grit and determination of various opponents, the bill was weakened in June. It suffered a number of significant modifications in the House of Lords before being passed as law in July.

Elsewhere in Europe, privacy was becoming a major issue. In France, the government was lambasted for planning mandatory registration for anyone publishing online.

Across the pond in the US privacy campaign groups were similarly up in arms about the FBI's latest toy ominously codenamed Carnivore. It is so named because it is capable of stripping the meat out of thousands of megabytes of email traffic at ISPs in seconds. The tool was so controversial that the US congress called for a review of its capabilities.

It was in June that ZDNet launched its own investigation into the high-tech world with a series of articles on the US-UK operated satellite surveillance network known as Echelon. These included first ever details of a similar system run out of France, dubbed Frenchelon.

With all these developments, it is unsurprising that in September London was the stage for a conference dedicated to the technology of surveillance. Experts from around the world debated state surveillance and how to get around it.

Surveillance became a wider concern in the UK in October when new powers were introduced guaranteeing employers the right to snoop on the email of workers. It was suggested that the rules could conflict with the UK's new Human Rights Act.

The latest target for privacy watchers is the Council of Europe's draft treaty on cybercrime. The treaty, which would encourage the standardisation of worldwide law on computer crime, was criticised for clauses that could lead to intrusive investigation methods.

They can see you... Read about how and why in Surveillance

Find out who's spying on you and how in our Echelon news special.

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