Europe Takes Online Privacy Seriously. You Can Too.


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14618899974_92f08e26c9_nThe Netherlands is known for its elaborate flood-control system, excellent soccer and a very tall populace. And it may one day have a reputation as a world leader in online privacy.

A Dutch judge ruled last week that the country’s data-retention law – under which the the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice retains phone records for a year and internet-use records for six months – must be scrapped. The security ministry is considering whether to appeal the ruling, the Guardian reports. But pending such an appeal, Dutch citizens are poised to win back a measure of privacy in their digital lives.

The move by the Netherlands reflects the value that Europeans place on individuals’ online privacy. In May 2014, a European court confirmed that European Union citizens have a “right to be forgotten” – that, in other words, a person can ask Google, Facebook or another internet company to remove information about them (as long as doing so wouldn’t clash with the public interest).

And European officials appear to be tightening the screws on industry and law enforcement to give EU citizens more control of their personal information. Late last year, a panel of European privacy regulators called for the “right to be forgotten” law to be expanded to non-European websites. More recently, a group of British lawmakers recommended that the UK overhaul its patchwork of data-surveillance rules to hold security agencies MI5 and MI6 accountable for how they use citizen data.

Where does the US stand – are officials here in any position to limit data collection and better protect online privacy?

The sad answer is, probably not. The Obama administration has proposed rules that would govern the way companies collect and use people’s data. But, one digital privacy expert told the New York Times, the proposed legislation would actually serve to weaken privacy in some states that have enacted their own privacy protections.

Meanwhile, the federal government is working to gain even more visibility into people’s digital lives. At a recent security conference at Stanford University, a Yahoo executive took the director of the National Security Agency to task for suggesting that internet companies build “backdoors” into their products to give spy agencies unfettered access to user communications. The Justice Department is pushing for greater investigative powers, too. It has proposed allowing judges to sign search warrants for computers outside their districts.

So what steps can you take – other than move to a European country that values privacy?

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about government surveillance. The NSA bulk data collection program first revealed in 2013 continues unabated, and Sen. Ron Wyden recently hinted that it is just one of many domestic surveillance programs in place.

You can take action against commercial data collection and hackers, however. A powerful tracker blocker like Blur will prevent data brokers and other companies from tracking what you do online. And tracker blocking is just one of Blur’s benefits. You can go a long way towards anonymizing yourself on the web with:

  • Masked Emails – real email addresses that forward to your main email, and can be deleted any time
  • Masked Cards – single-use credit cards that keep your real card number a secret.

Blur will help keep you private, even when using the internet invisibly is impossible. US citizens may not have a right to be forgotten, but a reasonable expectation of online privacy isn’t too much to ask, we think.

Learn more about Blur at our website.

Image courtesy of The Mill via photopin (license).

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