18 September 2013, 21:24

Mass Facebook 'suicide': 'we cannot completely avoid services we don’t trust' - Euro-MP

Amelia Andersdotter

Virtual identity suicide is growing as internet users start quitting social networks over privacy concerns. A recent inquiry of Vienna University reveals that about 9 million Americans and two million Britons deleted their Facebook profiles after recent reports of NSA’s spying activities on the internet. Amelia Andersdotter, a Swedish politician and Member of the European Parliament (MEP), elected on the Pirate party list, gave the Voice of Russia an exclusive interview in which she talked about the multiple reasons for Facebook suicides and the pros and cons of NSA surveillance. According to Andersdotter, cyber-surveillance is one of the most prominent examples of 'internet militarization' which has to be stopped if we wish to live in a 'brighter future'.

11 million users is a huge number for Facebook. Do they really think they will be in safety now?

I guess Facebook problem is that they make money from selling user data to advertisers and so advertisers are likely to be less impressed with the smaller network that people don’t use so much. So, that is the problem for Facebook.

Do you think that mass quitting will be picking up speed? What could that lead to?

What we are seeing is a global breakdown of trust, systems that we were expected to be satisfied using for schools, healthcare, our social life contacts with our families, our friends, all of this, turns out that they are not trustworthy. We do our banking on the internet and the NSA clearly undermines the entire civil and market society that we have tried to build on the internet because it is nice to build stuff together.

And so I think this is also partially the motivation for Mr. Snowden to reveal these things that this is undermining the fabric of society when security agencies, not only the NSA but also in other countries in Europe and god knows where, they are undermining the fabric of what it means to have a civilian space where civilians interact peacefully in order to bring a better tomorrow. We need people to trust in that because if they cannot trust in that, that is very bad.

Do you think we can see even more quitting ahead, is it going to be picking up speed? What will that really lead to?

I think the problem is also that we have many different pushes in society. So, Europe now is doing electricity networks on the internet that means that we put every household and all of their electricity consumption on the internet. We have healthcare systems, which are put on the internet. E-health is a massive industry which is doing lots of advertisement campaigns. So, the question is if we even can avoid the services that we probably have a strong feeling that we cannot really trust, and I think that we can’t.

The problem is that we are forced as citizens and as private persons, also as businesses, as local authorities doing public procurement into systems, into mechanisms that we cannot trust, it is not good to do that to people. You need for people to be able to somehow trust in the framework where they have to be. And we are not taking that into account, I think.

You’ve mentioned a lot of innovative and paper-saving, time-saving things, the electricity online and other services online, and that does save a lot of time, it saves paper but it does mean that all of your information is online. What can we do as citizens, especially if we want to keep on having paper-free account and so force, be green, what can we do to protect ourselves?

We get the military off the internet. The internet is a civilian space. We don’t want to have a militarized internet because it is a civilian space where we want to be able to act and engage with other people as civilian persons. That is the problem. The military should be off that space. They should be out of network information security, they should be out of online services that we use and we need to regulate these authorities or maybe even disband them so that they can’t infringe on a place that we are able to make very good use of for non-military purposes.

Militaries are very difficult. We don’t have a lot of stuff for militaries to do that, not like in 19 century when they could go regularly to war with each other globally every 10 years or so. It is not the case anymore, so military is out of stuff to do. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to be invading the civilian spaces. They can deal with floods and do another crisis management stuff.

Facebook along with Google and Yahoo recently submitted transparency requests that will allow users more insight into information collected by the government. Will it help the companies to save their reputation and regain the trust of their users?

If you are a company that is based in the country and that country has a military and the military comes to you and they say “as a company you will comply with this” because it is not you as a company who is liable for what the government forces you to do and it is difficult to stand up to the armed forces of your own country. So, you can’t expect for a company to decide the military of their nation state, that doesn’t work.

On one level, it is very good that they are working for transparency but we also must acknowledge that there is a political responsibility which goes beyond what these companies can do to insure that these institutions are controlled. It is not just the problem that can be solved by issuing a report.

Breaking down a trust frameworks and all of the confidence that citizens can have in their nation states it is not something that you easily solve with private sector think tank report. You need to actually have also legislators insuring somehow that they are able to keep civilian spaces and military spaces apart.

There is a reason that we make this distinction in society and that we’ve made that distinction for any number of hundred years and it is not because we thought that actually it would be a good idea to mix these things up, it is because it has always been a bad idea to mix the military and civilian structures. That has never been good and that is exactly what we are doing now and it is strange that we are doing that because there is plenty of experience about how that is a bad idea.

After Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called off her October state visit to Washington over US spying allegations Facebook and Google were urged to store Internet data of Brazilian citizens locally. Do you think that this move on the part of Brazil could be backed by other countries?

I support the outrage by the Brazilian president and I know also in Europe we have seen a lot of political outrage but then ultimately the nation state and the security agencies of nation states also are very tricky and difficult to kill beasts if that makes sense. And so you have the risk of having the situation when all of the countries don’t want to have other countries do this but they don’t mind of doing it themselves. And so I would like to see a European Union data protection regulation, this is not that bad of an idea. It is a regulation which has as its whole purpose to codify that we, the private persons, have the right to our own identities as enshrined in the European convention of human rights and it tried to provide us with the tools to actually manage this right that we can actually have this right.

Maybe if there can be legislation which clearly manifests that people have the right to the personal data, that they have the right to control it, to know what is going on, that we have a general right to our identities, that would be useful legislative action, which pushes power from the government and from companies onto individuals. And as long as we are not seeing legislative efforts to the effect of making that kind of power shift over the information, how do you usefully enable people to control their own information, other stuff risks to gain a theatre act. It is very easy to be populist and it is very difficult to be good and decisive and decision-maker who bases your future vision for society on clear values. This is my general impression. In general, Brazilians are doing good but we need more.

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