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Internet surveillance

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The concept of internet surveillance, as with any type of surveillance, conjures up the images of someone skulking about, peeping through windows and spying through keyholes, listening through the walls, and generally nosing about where he/she does not belong. However, internet surveillance may well go many steps beyond simple sleuthing.

In fact, the concept of internet surveillance stands in direct opposition to the idea of a "secure" internet. According to Netlingo, "Information traveling on the Internet usually takes a circuitous route to its destination computer, through several intermediary computers. The actual route is not under your control. As your information travels, each intermediary computer presents the risk that someone will eavesdrop and make copies. An intermediary computer could even deceive you and exchange information with you by misrepresenting itself as your intended destination. These possibilities make the transfer of confidential information, such as passwords or credit card numbers, susceptible to abuse." This is cybercrime.

Another non-secure internet activity is spyware. "Software that gathers information about a user as he or she navigates around the Web, spyware is intended to track surfing habits in order to build marketing profiles. .... [and] information about your habits will be transmitted back to the company's Web site-but not information specifically about you." Although marketing spyware is not illegal, the way in which it works can be used as one technique for internet surveillance.

Another would be the use of cookies, which are "stored as text files on your hard drive so servers can access them when you return to Web sites you've visited before. ... Cookies are commonly 'handed out' when you, as a user, login to a Web site where you've registered a username and password. The server finds the cookie information on your computer, checks with its own information, and if they match, retrieves your file. You then have either a personalized version of a portal, or easy access to your online shopping account, for example."

"Within the Internet industry, cookies are used by advertisers to track your browsing and buying habits. In this realm, cookie technology enables advertisers to target ad banners based on what you've said your interests are." However, "There is an ongoing debate about privacy" regarding cookies and, like their namesake, they leave a trail which "others" can follow.

Taking spyware and cookies one step further, internet surveillance is intentional and can utilize both to accomplish data mining and what is now being called ethical hacking. Although "hacking has been going on since computers were invented, and sometimes there have been extremely damaging consequences, ... a variety of old-time hackers have now 'gone commercial' and taken hacking to the business level." Here is where internet surveillance crosses the dual pathways of the techniques and talents of data mining. The question then becomes an ethical one: "Because we know how, should we?"

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