Identifying the limits of governmental interference with on-line privacy
This thesis addresses the issue of on-line privacy, in an effort to identify the limits of governmental interference with this kind of right. Traditional privacy has been a well accepted and legally recognized human right for many years now. However, the exposure of privacy to the Internet has created new threats that mould the nature of 'on-line privacy': a user is less aware of the dangers faced in cyberspace, due to the instinctive feeling of being alone when in front of a computer; the distinction between private and public places is blurred, cyberspace looks like a public space, but is actually an aggregation of privately owned digital spaces, open to public access. Taking this as a basis, the thesis explores the route to be followed in order for a well-balanced interference with on-line privacy to be designed. First, an analysis of computer-related crime, the major reason (or excuse) on which governments base the need to interfere and delimit privacy in the on-line environment. On¬ line delinquency may be a serious problem, but it has to be examined closer than it has been up to present if it is to choose effective measures to combat it. Second, the thesis analyses the legal reasons justifying governmental interference with on-line privacy. National security, public safety and the economic well being of a country are the most popular reasons appearing in laws regulating interference with an otherwise protected right, and they will play a prominent role in justifying interference with privacy in cyberspace; an approach on the meaning, use and difficulties met in their application can be a starting point in an effort to avoid the same problems in the on-line environment. The European Convention of Human Rights, being one of the most complete and effective legal forums for human rights protection, is then used to show how the legally acceptable justifications for interference with privacy are being implemented. The thesis goes on to examine cryptography: being one of the most valuable tools for the protection of on-line privacy, regulating its use and dissemination is a way of governmental interference. An approach of the efforts made to limit the use and dissemination of strong encryption shows how on-line privacy has been affected. It is further suggested that restrictions in the use of strong encryption have a much more detrimental effect for legitimate users than for those using it to conceal illegal activity. The effectiveness of these measures is, therefore, under question. Next, the UK Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is analysed, mainly those parts that affect on-line privacy. RIPA regulates the use of investigatory powers in the on-line environment such as interception of communications, acquisition of communications data and governmental access to keys. Being one of the few examples of such legislation, a lot can be learnt from the mistakes made. Last, the thesis explores the threat posed to on-line privacy by systems of covert governmental surveillance. The Echelon and other major international surveillance systems is probably the most real threat for privacy in the on-line environment.