Top German Police Officer: 'Anyone On The Internet Has Left The Private Sphere'

from the you-first dept

The Internet as a mass medium is still relatively young, so it’s no surprise that its function in society and in our daily lives is still being defined. One important question concerns the nature of our actions online: to what extent are they public? Here’s one rather extreme view, expressed by Jürgen Maurer, vice-president of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, as reported by Der Spiegel (original in German):

Anyone on the Internet has left the private sphere, and finds themselves in a kind of public sphere.

That’s no mere detail, of course: actions that are perfectly acceptable in the private sphere may not be in public, and vice versa, so it’s crucially important to know where you are at a given time. For example, there are many things you might get up to in the privacy of your own home that would not be allowed in public. Similarly, it’s generally regarded as OK for the police to keep an eye on what happens in public places, but their interest in people’s bedrooms most certainly wouldn’t be.

Since Maurer seems to believe that anything you do online, however personal and intimate, takes place in “a kind of public sphere,” perhaps he’d like to follow that through, and start posting all his Internet activity online for the public to enjoy. Or maybe his idea of the public sphere online really just means “a place where the police don’t need to get a warrant to spy on people….”

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Comments on “Top German Police Officer: 'Anyone On The Internet Has Left The Private Sphere'”

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38 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

Since Maurer seems to believe that anything you do online, however personal and intimate, takes place in “a kind of public sphere,” perhaps he’d like to follow that through, and start posting all his Internet activity online for the public to enjoy.

That. My e-mail account(s) are my personal private space in the Internet. My personal storage where I backup my pictures is my personal space in the Internet. My Facebook account has things that are privat, things that are visible to people I know (I’ll call that semi-public) and things that anyone can see. So if you want to compare it to reality the private spaces would be my houses, storages, bank accounts and anything that only I have access. The semi-public sphere would be something like a condominium of houses where some parts are “public” to the people that live/work there and all the rest would be the parks, streets and any public place.

I wonder why people struggle so much with things when they are transfered to the Internet. As if adding “on the Internet” suddenly destroyed all logical and established order of things when the reality is that it doesn’t.

JarHead says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yup… if taken to the extreme. Things like cryptography is only added as an afterthought, not designed built in.

Try spoofing your IP. Short of using an anonymizing server, which basically only change your IP with their own, you’re out of luck. Cos that’s how the inet is designed.

Quoting a character from Leverage: “… and you still believe there’s privacy in this day and age, cute.”

The question now is: “what is it worth to break into your ‘private’ data.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

you are cute! Believing anything on Facebook is sacred from their advertising gods is a bit naive. Anything on Favebook is public or will be public if it holds sufficient news value.

Now, this police officer is more likely commenting on the complete freedom police has in obtaining information (netbanks, personal email etc. though it takes a warrent). Furthermore, most anything else can be obtained by illegal means.

The only “private” room from authorities and hackers are in encryptions and/or vpn/anonymizer combinations. That the officer doesn’t understand this detail is a typical sign of why politicians try to force “right to be forgotten”, “patriot acts” and “extended copyright laws” like HADOPI, NZ three strikes or US six strikes. If the politicians/police/judges understood this, the way they would try to deal with those issues would be far different.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

you are cute! Believing anything on Facebook is sacred from their advertising gods is a bit naive. Anything on Favebook is public or will be public if it holds sufficient news value.

It is an example..

Now, this police officer is more likely commenting on the complete freedom police has in obtaining information (netbanks, personal email etc. though it takes a warrent).

Depends on the country, in the US you don’t even need warrants 😉

Furthermore, most anything else can be obtained by illegal means.

I’m not sure everything is that open but for most part I guess that’s the idea.

The only “private” room from authorities and hackers are in encryptions and/or vpn/anonymizer combinations.

Good thing you used quotes there.

Seems ppl didn’t understand what I said. I’m saying that is what it should be treated. You are all pointing illegal stances or security flaws. It’s like pointing my house is public because a criminal can bust in and rob things from inside. Nothing is truly secure.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The internet IS very much like a public street. But even on that street, your car has locks. Stealing your mail remains a crime. And shoving a camera down someone’s pants is still illegal.

Just because the street is public, doesn’t mean we can be strip-searched for stepping out our front door, after all.

As for the on the internet thing, my mother is the poster woman for that issue. She’s intelligent, has good common sense and thinks things through before acting. But put her online and suddenly operations less complex than tying her shoes become major life crises.

Andreas (profile) says:

I think he is right though, as for most part of the internet. Since I first went online in the midnineties, I always knew that all measures for data protection and privacy are only facades and temporary, as information cannot be put on a worldwide accessible web with total security. Heavy encryption might help temporarily, but in the long it will lose the protection against sheer computing power of the future.

That’s why heavily encrypted networks and services are so interesting and important right now. But as long as there is no solution that complete encrypts client-sided with regular updates and open-source-code that is massively adapted by all platforms and protocols, there won’t be any real privacy on the internet. Most of it is completely imaginary and marketing, in my opinion.

Robert Sund (profile) says:

Re: Heavy encryption

4 bytes larger key gives more than 30 extra years;
1kB more gives several thousand extra years;
1MB more gives several million extra years;
before it is feasable to crack the key.

For good (symmetric) algorithms the strength doubles for each additional bit. This is true both for computing power and the size of look-up tables[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_table].

If computing power and RAM size doubles each year, 4 bytes gives 32 extra years before it is feasible to crack the key (because the key is 4.000.000.000 times stronger). It is one among many easy improvements one can make to significantly improve resilience. It is also a strong argument for longer pass-phrases.

For asymmetrical crypto the key must be longer (because the strength/bit is lower), but this isn’t a problem as the key is both generated by a computer and used by a computer.

Proper end-user to end-user crypto use a combination of both. GnuPG use a new (one-time) symmetric key for each file you send; and it uses asymmetrical (personal) crypto to encrypt that key. This enables strangers to exchange information, and to send information to several different people that don’t share the same personal asymmetrical key.

I presume that part of the reason citizens assume that governments respect their privacy when they use Internet to be at the same level as communication with letters, is that the governments really should.

Mr. Applegate says:

I have to say, there is a point there. The internet is much like the local mall. It isn’t a private place. Most people may see you come and go, and even see what you are looking at or buying. For the most part you are unaware and no one cares.

If you post something on the internet it is no different than putting it on a poster at the local mall. Maybe you sign it, maybe not, but someone could see you or even film you doing it.

The exception (at least as I see it) is sites that are encrypted and require login to post AND view content. Then you are in a place such as a private club. Still not your bedroom, but there is an expectation that only fellow members will see what you post or do.

Finally, if you are on a site that is secured and requires members to login AND allows you to choose who may see your content, now you have approached the level of your bedroom and the same level of protections should apply. Still you need to remember that unlike your bedroom, there is a recording of everything you do, that may be there forever. So with the proper warrants… the evidence of your actions could still be used against you. Much like that nasty video you keep stashed under your bed.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think the point of the article was that the boundaries aren’t yet set.

What I was trying to explain is where I thought the different boundaries lie, by comparing technology to current physical items and expectations.

Just like the article about Teri Buhl last week who seemed to think she could throw something out on twitter yet retain complete control over it. Obviously, she gave up her privacy when she tweeted, just as she gave up her right not to be quoted (or whatever she was ranting about I really don’t recall exactly).

I know employers who try to demand prospective employees turn over their usernames and passwords for Facebook…

So while some of us can see the boundaries and they make sense to us, I think it is pretty obvious not everyone does.

I know I have to explain this to elderly people all the time because they have a hard time understanding the intertubes.

out_of_the_blue says:

Remember when Google's Schmidt said same thing?

Yet how many of you happily go along with Google’s snooping and collating? Mike even defend it. (See below for his catch-phrase.)

Why run this item? … Oh, right this is Techdirt, It’s here exactly BECAUSE it’s hardly surprising!

Take a loopy tour of Techdirt.com! You always end up at same place!
http://techdirt.com/
Where “no evidence of real harm” means let secretive mega-corporations continue to grow.

artp (profile) says:

It is so easy to confuse things on the Internet

This post is based on basic computer security principles. IANAL.

Also, let’s separate legal privacy from actual privacy. I expect to have more legal privacy than I can count on for the rumor mill.

The Internet is a broadcast medium. Further, once broadcast, it can never be recalled. We need legal constraints on what the government can do with that.

Any information that I host on the Internet is on a broadcast medium. It is not as private as something that I keep inside of the firewall. It is far more private than something that I trust to a third party Internet service provider: Gmail, Facebook, Dropbox…. And “clouds” are not private at all. You do not own the cloud. They may be temporarily private, but don’t count on it in the long term.

The third party providers also come in various ranks of trustworthiness. I wouldn’t trust Facebook as far as I could throw one of their server farms. They keep changing the rules.

I don’t trust social media at all. So I don’t use social media at all. If it is my information, I will take care of it myself, thank you very much. The risk of letting go of my information is not worth any benefit that they can promise me. Ask the users of Megaupload how that worked out for them. And Megaupload wasn’t even a social network. There was an expectation of privacy. If you don’t have control of it, then you don’t have control of it. Period. Quit arguing. If you decided to use a social network and released your private information to them, then betrayal should not be a surprise.

I learned all this stuff back in the 80s, when I was using Compuserve and the Source and BBSs. I learned not to do anything that I wouldn’t do in “real life” [TM]. I learned not to expect that other people would respect my wishes about my comments, uploads or downloads. And it was more apparent back then that I was using somebody else’s space.

So, while the government needs to be restrained on what they can do with my actions on the Internet, that doesn’t change the practical fact that the Internet is a public place. Even in the area where I am hosting my own information. I have still put it where it can be accessed without my permission, passwords notwithstanding.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well he is not wrong, anything you do on the internet is public and unlike public records that can be erased or withhold, the interwebz never forgets.

I won’t ask anybody to defend my privacy it is mine, is my interest, therefore my problem, I do whoever welcome help, non-violent help I mean, I am an angry person I cannot be in company of people who believe violence solves anything I would agree and join in, but I am trying to cut back on that, that is why for the last ten years I have managed to not get into a fist fight and it was not easy, I had to run, I had to swallow my pride I had to to a lot of things, that goes against my nature to not be or use violence, the one thing I do have is discipline though, if I set a goal I will do everything in my power to reach it, but I digress.

I agree with the German dude, there is no privacy on the internet only the privacy that you are able to maintain.

Says the Anonymous Coward using an anonymous network to post this.

Anonymous Coward says:

The internet technically can be both public AND private, obviously this man is ignorant, or he has some sort of vested interest in lying.

When something on the internet is public, its because someone has made it public, and has chosen not to apply security……unless your a corp or gov, apparently they are entitled while the public is not

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