Against that depressing background, it's good to see one organisation standing up for users – and that it's an open-source one:
Mozilla is launching StopWatching.Us – a campaign sponsored by a broad coalition of organizations from across the political and technical spectrum calling on citizens and organizations from around the world to demand a full accounting of the extent to which our online data, communications and interactions are being monitored.
Here are the principal problems it sees:
There’s a lot more data to be had. The legal authority to conduct electronic surveillance has grown over the past few years, because the laws are written broadly. And, as users, we don’t have good ways of knowing whether the current system is being abused, because it’s all happening behind closed doors.
It goes on to draw analogies with SOPA and ACTA:
When we look back at the public response to SOPA/PIPA, two Congressional anti-piracy bills, where Mozilla and other organizations asked the public to get involved, we were blown away by the response. Hundreds of thousands of people contacted their representatives with concerns over the potential impact to the Web. We saw the same thing with ACTA in the EU. We need to rekindle that energy more than ever so our elected officials take the necessary actions to illuminate how current surveillance policies are being implemented.
As you may recall, on January 18th last year, Mozilla joined thousands of other sites in blacking out its home page. Although that might seem a fairly pointless gesture, it did succeed in bringing attention to the dangers of the disproportionate Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was withdrawn by its supporters shortly after the blackout day took place.
Mozilla believes in an Internet where we do not have to fear that everything we do is being tracked, monitored and logged by either companies or governments. And we believe in a government whose actions are visible, transparent and accountable.
What’s unique for Mozilla is that our only commitment is to internet users who rely on an open Web where content, imagination, trust and innovation can thrive.
Against a background of companies complicit with governments in spying on users, that's a hugely important point. Even though Mozilla has a commercial arm, that's purely to handle the income flowing from the search engine deals that keep the organisation ticking along so nicely. As a web page on the Mozilla site explains:
The Mozilla Corporation was established in August 2005 as a wholly owned taxable subsidiary that serves the non-profit, public benefit goals of its parent, the Mozilla Foundation, and the vast Mozilla community.
The Mozilla Corporation is guided by the principles of the Mozilla Manifesto.
That Manifesto puts openness and the user at its heart; here's its fourth principle:
Individuals’ security on the Internet is fundamental and cannot be treated as optional.
Given this commitment, and the fact that Mozilla is unusual among free software projects in being extremely well funded, the question then becomes: what can it do in practice to help protect the privacy of users? That's been a focus of the Mozilla team for some while – there's an entire blog devoted to it. Recent moves include bringing third-party cookies under control – something the advertising industry absolutely hates, which suggests it must be a good thing. That's all great stuff, but the recent revelations about governmental spying go beyond even the already troublesome commercial monitoring that takes place as a matter of course. What might Mozilla do here?