Anonymous No More: EU Guidelines Create Transparent Surfer

December 31, 2006 3:48am CST
Data collection is a simple matter in the internet age. With new EU guidelines for telecommunications data retention expected to be adopted in countries like Germany in the near future, surfers' tracks across the internet will be traceable for months afterwards. Computer users already provide a wealth of data about themselves when they go online: when visiting a website, their browser indicates which operating system is being used by the surfer's computer and the last website visited. Users, who are curious about what kind of information is being revealed, can see for themselves by visiting Websites like Internet service providers can mine that data to learn much about their users' preferences. The ISPs, unlike many others prying eyes, can also link data to a real name. Many countries currently prohibit the storage of connection data over long periods of time, however. "Only data required for billing may be stored," explains Angelika Jennen, a spokeswoman for the German Office of Privacy Protection and Freedom of Information. Germany also permits connection data relevant to security issues to be stored for maximally two weeks. So much for the letter of the law. "In practice the laws are often disregarded or ignored," says Henry Krasemann, an expert on data privacy. A good deal of data is already being stored for months or years, he indicates. The EU guidelines for telecommunications data retention slated for implementation in mid 2007 call for mandatory storage of connection data for six months. Users who prefer active measures to mask their personal data can use the JAP anonymity software. It was developed over the course of six years as a joint effort of the University of Dresden and a non-profit privacy organization. The free Jap software encrypts all surfing-related information on the user's computer. The software is available for free at Government support for the JAP project runs out this year, but plans have been made to keep the JAP service available for free in the future. Anonymity servers will continue to be provided at no charge from privacy-minded organizations like the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) in Hamburg. "Two servers and bandwidth are paid for until November 2007 through project funds from the CCC and charitable donations," says Frank Rosengart, spokesman for the CCC. How the new laws on data retention will affect JAP remains unclear, says Henry Krasemann. Government agencies like law enforcement may be able to force their way behind the curtain. The question is whether third parties like music industry lawyers will be able to pierce the anonymity as well. Yet no one really believes that the new laws will spell an end to anonymous surfing. One international initiative to assure anonymous internet usage comes through the Torpark project (, for example. The CCC is currently also operating a TOR server. "A server only recognizes its predecessor, not the origin of the data, the target or the content," Rosengart explains. By Patrick Fauss, Dpa
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