Home > Technical Miscellany > Internet Privacy: Who Do You Trust?

Internet Privacy: Who Do You Trust?

Who do you trust?

The rollback of the not yet effective USA FCC regulations enacted during the Obama administration poses an interesting dilemma. With the regulations set to take effect in 2017, user’s were/are still subject to whatever unregulated behavior an ISP chooses to exercise. In essence, all internet users are vulnerable to the whims of their ISP. Therefore, the rollback of these regulations does not materially impact Internet user behavior or activity at present.

These FCC regulations would have enabled users to trust that their ISPs, at least to a certain degree, are complying with privacy regulations and keeping much of the data generated by user’s activity private. While this may be an onerous assumption to make, the regulations allay fears of nefarious behavior by ISPs with user’s data.

Coupled with Vault 7 revelations and the FCC regulation rollback, many are concerned about their internet privacy and are clamoring for an answer. Predictably, paid VPN services are being discussed as a means to prevent snooping by user’s ISPs. This is an effective countermeasure achieving that specific goal, but is only a single tool out of many that should be deployed in parallel to minimize one’s exposure.

Deploying VPN services carries with it it’s own set of complications and considerations. Chief among these is trust as one is essentially changing the trust relationship with their ISP in favor of an another entity further along the line, but are prospective VPN services worthy of this? VPN providers have unfettered access to any traffic traversing their network. Additionally, they — and incidentally you — may be subject to laws and regulations of the prevailing authorities/jurisdiction, which may or may not be friendly to the end goal. Even if hosted outside the borders of the US, these services are subject to higher authorities. Can they be trusted? The answer is not clear and concise as it depends largely on the user’s desires.

The next logical leap is to consider self-hosting and operating one’s own VPN endpoint. This removes trust from all providers placing it with the user. The user controls the VPN, its configuration, and operation regardless of the jurisdiction within which it may be deployed. The user can control user registration and records, logging operations and scope, and log retention policies [generally within the constraints of the prevailing jurisdiction].

Even if one chooses to self host a VPN service — particularly within the US — consider the service on which the VPN is deployed may potentially be legally defined as an ISP. After all, they do provide a service on the Internet and can conceivably engage in the same behavior that is feared ISPs such as Verizon or Comcast will engage in. This invalidates the trust relationship with a broader definition of an ISP and/or common carrier. Obviously, the landscape changes with varying jurisdictions, whether US-based or international.

So, who do you trust?

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Categories: Technical Miscellany
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