Thursday, July 26, 2012

What If The World Knew What You Were Thinking Part 1: Modern Law And Communications

Imagine sitting at home one night, maybe reading the news on your e-reader or from the classic wp-reader (wood pulp reader ie newspaper). You come across an ad for a vacation spot that you are might be interested in. As you ponder the possibility of doling out the one thousand simoleans to do so, someone in a car drives by your house and screams out the window of their car: 

"You don't want to go there, its a lousy spot to go".

A little shaken, you write that off to coincidence and continue your reading. You come across an article that has a picture of the columnist, who reminds you of an ex-girlfriend and you reminisce about a provocative evening you enjoyed with her. Somebody walking by says:

"Way to go buddy, I thought you didn't kiss and tell. I can't wait to tell the guys at corner store about that".

Now you are feeling a little agitated, maybe even violated. Frustrated, you decide to try finishing off a sales presentation that has to be finished by the end of the week. 

You start working on it and your neighbor yells out their window:

"You're going to try to gouge your customer with a 10 percent commission? That's highway robbery". 

Your tension level rising, you think about your commission and decide that it might be a little high. You mark it down to 8 percent and the neighbor says: 

"I made you lower your commission! Slap!".

You decide to give up and go to bed. You don't sleep as well as you usually do though you have an enticing dream involving the girlfriend you were reminded about. You wake up in the morning and your neighbor says:

"Whoa. That was some night you had. You don't mind if I give her a call, do you?".

You clench your fists, ready to explode and lay a speech on the neighbor about your privacy and then realize that you are dealing in an issue that would be impossible for others to know about unless they could read your mind.

Does this sound a little too far out? Well it is possible with a little bit of technology and psychology to add the finishing touches. Here's how something like that could work.

The technology enabling the transmission of information over wireless networks is pretty stable and secure. Even with some expensive technology it would be pretty difficult to turn the frequency modulated waves back into their originating information though it would be possible given enough time and resources, but let's rule that out and stick with a more simple possibility. Imagine that every electronic device that has a video display, such as a video monitor could broadcast the signal that it receives from the computer to other computers (or just video monitors) as long as the other computers (or video monitors) had the right kind of receiver.

So now we have the technical means to keep an eye on what you are reading and working  on right from your screen that doesn't require monitoring your internet connection. This kind of a configuration would work even if you didn't have an internet connection. Nor does it require a scary Orwellian totalitarian Government to make it possible, they would have better things to do, like having an interior decorator improve the visual presence of Room 101. It could be done by people in your neighborhood with ease for a relatively low cost and would only require one neighbor to act as a relay, that is if one computer receives the video signal from your computer, that could be relayed to fifty other monitoring computers if they have an internet connection or the right receiver.

Now imagine that one of the fifty computers keeping an eye on what you are checking out on your computer screen has someone that knows or knew you. They knew that the columnist you were looking at looked like one of your ex-girlfriends and relayed this info via text message to someone driving by your house.

This isn't really too far from the truth of what is possible. This sort of a scenario is the antithesis of data mining in relation to targetted marketing. The difference is that I see targetted marketing as a great thing. Based upon my web browsing habits, I will receive ads or search results that highlight the relationship of those browsing habits. That's great because the stuff that a person might want has a better chance of coming to them without them having to look for it.

Unfortunately the truth of the matter is that there are people that are using this kind of technology and they are using it to protect an underground economy. Finding those that may stand against this is the goal of such a group and the utilization of information technology to these ends has proven a benefit to them.

By doing so, they may have been tricking the public into thinking that it is the Government that is doing this when in fact it is just a group of well organized civilians. In doing so they would risk turning a greater number of people against the Government and creating civil unrest and increasing the number of people that would support their cause.

The problem and the extent of this situation makes it a very dangerous prospect if laws governing the unauthorized use of monitoring technologies are not reeled in and modernized to meet the risk they pose. If such technology makes its way into the hands of identity thieves, corporate spies, intellectual or technical property thieves the economic risks become monumental.

Imagine a civilian group being able to monitor your activities when you are filling out a bank funds transfer, or an online purchase, or the use of a Government service that requires a registered user. Such a civilian group would not have to be bonded in order to be insurable in case of liability. There would be no safeguards against the misuse of such information.

People monitoring in this way would literally be able to see everything a person could see on their screen. That is they could see the answers to your secret questions about account verification. Enough of those when combined with your name, address, date of birth, social insurance or social security numbers and the rest of your personal information would provide an identity thief with a smorgasbord that would keep them able to operate with your identity for years.

Another scenario involves the group being able to see who you interact with, send emails to, chat with. With that information if they were seeking to damage your reputation they could then use that connection to spam email the people you emailed, or send them damaging emails. They could start harassing the people that you chat with. There are a whole plethora of nasty things that they could do with access to such information.

Creative and Intellectual properties could fall risk to such theft at the hands of the people monitoring. People could literally take your ideas, and perhaps your creations and claim them for their own without you even knowing. They could then obtain a legal copyright against your works and be the legal owners of those works.

What about a corporate venture or deal involving millions of dollars. Having advance information about such a deal could have effects that would ripple markets world wide. What about a Government official monitored so as to compromise a bill proposal, or an amendment to an Act or Statute ahead of its presentation to the Senate.

The current hurdles that exist in the legal arena with regard to such activity is that the laws concerning the protection of privacy must be modernized to take into consideration that an internet connection between a provider and a customer is a private communication.

The Nevis Consulting Group Inc. conducted a study which was turned into the Department of Justice Canada on April 28, 2003. Here are some of the recommendations:


1. E-mail should receive the same treatment by the Canadian government as first-class mail, affording it the same protection as any other private communication. Thus the statutory and common law rules of evidence would apply equally to e-mail as to postal mail.

2. The Criminal Code should be amended to clarify that e-mail, at least while in transit, constitutes a "private communication" under section 183. It would then be subject to the same procedural safeguards as all other interceptions under this provision.

3. The Criminal Code should define clearly when an e-mail ceases to be a communication subject to interception and when it becomes a document subject to search and seizure.

4. Canadians have a similar reasonable expectation of privacy when using e-mail as they do with other forms of communication. The legal treatment of e-mail should not be determined by technological capability but rather by our values as a society. If we wish to communicate privately by e-mail we should construct our laws to make it so.

5. Non-profit ISPs run by community associations that offer confidential e-mail lists to enable lawyers to consult with community advocates on difficult cases, law reform issues and other sensitive matters are concerned that the proposed legislation may violate the privacy of advocates and others using this service.

6. Although ISPs are private companies, they should be subject to state-imposed regulation because they are responsible for the essential service of e-mail delivery.

What this basicly states is that email should be covered under the same laws that protect postal mail and that a breach of a person's email would be the same as opening someone else's private postal mail. It also clarifies that the communication between and ISP and a customer's computer should be considered a private communication and protected by the criminal code by section 183 which covers laws regarding the interception of communications.

These laws should further be expanded to cover the scenarios that I have listed above involving the interception of display signals or any such monitoring that may occur independent of a network connection at all.

Another area of consideration should be the area concerning the offshore interception and collection of data. The dangers of such a practice pose risks outside of the legal jurisdictions of the originating countries. The risks are similar to the ones mentioned above except that the laws protecting one domestically would have little or no effect on those operating offshore. Combining the display monitoring technology with a computer receiving the wireless display information then relaying that information to an offshore data harvesting operation could be potentially disastrous personally and potentially politically and economically.

In closing, it is important to note that some of the aforementioned situations involve scenarios that are within the realm of possibility and are definitely in practice today. That does not mean that one should lose confidence in the great potential for business and communications that the internet and computers pose. Its does ascertain that one utilizing the technology should be aware of some risks so that they may recognize the warning signs of such a possibility being realized and further to understand the necessity of the Government updating these laws to cover these possibilities.

As of the report date of April 28, 2003, the following Canadian Government Departments and civil society groups are responding to the recommendations:

Government Departments

Alberta Justice

Alberta Solicitor General

Civil Society Groups

B.C. Civil Liberties Association

British Columbia Freedom of Information and

Privacy Association

Canadian Bar Association

Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Canadian Library Association

Civil Liberties Association, National Capital Region

Electronic Frontier Canada and

Electronic Frontier Foundation (US)

Electronic Privacy Information Center (US)

Internet Law Group - University of Manitoba

Option consommateurs


Privaterra - Computer Professionals for Social


Public Interest Advocacy Centre

Vancouver Community Network

Risque Factor

(c) Copyright 2012 Brian Joseph Johns

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