Thursday 17 January 2008

Handling Internet Intimidation

Networks of similar interests

Belonging to a number of networking sites, some social, others professional, one leaves a footprint almost irremovable from the Internet.

Where the networking sites are of special interest lifestyles there is opportunity to be more particular about your interests and the kind of people you want to interact with.

One would hope that the more detail provided, the more discerning people seeking similar companionship and interests would be and maybe one can naively assume that all that is through informed consent, personal prerogative and genuine awareness of what engagement one is undertaking.

Indeed, we have heard that certain social networking sites have become havens for bullies and harassment – cyberbullying is the new word for that – these matters are becoming an area of crime investigation that is receiving the scrutiny of social protection agencies and law enforcement - the playground bully has moved to cyberspace.

There are sites that cater for adults and hopefully the membership is made up of law-abiding ones who should not be embarrassed for doing what as adults they choose to do within the law.

Informed and mutual consent

The operative phrase being mutual consent; this is however not a fixed quantity, what some people mutually consent to do having informed each other of their intentions and desires might as well be morally reprehensible to others and excite passionate negative emotions.

One cannot refuse those who find these things abhorrent their right to have those emotions, convictions or feelings – it is part of our humanity.

If one has racist, xenophobic or homophobic sympathies, they have their issues but hopefully they are abstract; to take those sympathies and target them at an object, personality or group for vitriolic abuse, threats of denigration or bodily harm has that person crossing the boundaries of civility to criminality, which can be prosecuted.

Handling abuse

I have tolerated a lot of abuse on the Internet and in social networking sites I have helped some people keep within the bounds of the law by not responding and hence not aggravating the situation.

Where the site has clear guidelines about abuse, I have matched the clauses in their documents against the claims I make of abuse and given administrators of those sites the opportunity to address these matters – in two cases the sources of abuse were bumped off the site.

In other cases, I have used the blocking facilities to prevent those people from contacting me and in one case I completely removed myself from the site to avoid harassment.

I would NOT be intimidated

But I would not be intimidated on the Internet by faceless, anonymous cretins who can pen unspeakable abuse and hatred but are too cowardly to leave a calling card which bears a name and a proper reply slip.

What they forget is that every action taken on the Internet leaves footprints and the tenacious would find those tracks and trace them back to the originator, nobody is really anonymous on the Internet.

In two instances, I engaged the service of private detectives, employed computer & Internet forensics in which I have professional qualifications, gathered all the evidence, got the police involved and obtained with the force of the law, records of transactions on a social networking site to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law in court, death threats on the Internet – I secured convictions for what the perpetrator thought was his right to menace and harass with impunity – they chose the wrong guy.

Your rights - my rights

Recently, I have been menaced by someone who by rights has a right to feel abhorrence about me if he deems fit, but we live in a free society where everyone has a personal responsibility when engaging in any liaisons with informed consent; that responsibility should and must not be passed on to others once one has come of age as an adult.

One studied situation deals with sexual conduct when people expect others to watch out for them when they should be alert and aware of what they personally engage in – this includes the moderate use of alcohol and drugs so that they are not taken advantage of and cajoled into acts they would not engage in when sober and of clear mind.

Informed consent must be the prime mover in any liaison, it is the responsibility of each person engaged in that liaison to exercise that prerogative and hopefully where either cannot exercise that prerogative the more alert party would desist and refrain.

Arguing with the fool

This sounds like a reasonable argument that any sane person can appreciate and understand, it is however difficult to engage a menace in such reasoning – a saying infers arguing with a fool would make both of you fools.

In fact, these Internet bullies if one were to confer any status of their cowardice are snipers, assassins, assailants – no better than terrorists – even hecklers in their anti-social garb are recognisable; they, the terrorists, have a time of menace but each attack creates a pattern, a patchwork and a developing case towards nabbing them with compelling evidence.

One saying this menace would very well understand is this – Everyday is for the thief and one day is for the catcher.

You have already crossed the line between personal expression through abuse which can be tolerated to criminal conduct through threatening my physical well-being which would be investigated – think about the consequences before your reprehension grows beyond your ability to control the events around you.

Monday 7 January 2008

Jeremy Clarkson teaches Data Protection

Clarkson learns data protection

If there was anything that would make people learn the fact that the protection of personal data is so important, we have Jeremy Clarkson to thank for that.

Now, Mr. Jeremy Clarkson is someone you would very much love to hate as an opinionated right-wing commentator who for all his faults does present a very entertaining car programme called Top Gear.

In many ways, as our society has growth soppy and more intolerant of political incorrectness, the man has tempered his opinions with a bit of restraint. The attempts to gentrify the man with more cerebral engineering programmes did not however endear him to me anymore than I can accept his professional judgement about cars.

Mr. Clarkson pooh-poohed the whole uneasiness about the loss of data concerning 25 million people in the UK by publishing his details in his column on the Sun newspaper.

These details included his full bank account information and his address, enough for someone who must have wanted to prove a point to set up a Direct Debit of GBP 500.00 to the Diabetes UK charity.

Every little data helps

Obviously, it also shows how such details can be used maliciously by others to extract a lot more than a gesture to charity from unsuspecting people who are careless with their data.

I, for instance would never dispose of anything containing my details without shredding the lot and like I observed a few weeks ago, I need a better shredder when I saw a lady trying to put together strips from a shredder waste-basket.

This matter of details could be as minor as envelopes that have just my postcode and house-number or the till receipt after paying with my bank card at the supermarket. Every little data helps the thief assume your identity on the one hand and sometimes conduct harmful transactions in your name.

Mr. Clarkson happens to be someone who checks his bank statements or else a few more transactions would have been made before he found out about the shenanigans done in his name.

Privacy from excessive data accumulation

This brings me to the Advance-Fee Fraud emails that people receive asking for their bank details in confidence so as to pay in supposedly ill-gotten gains from which the bank account holder can benefit up to 25% of the deposit.

Well, in most cases, these accounts get fleeced and emptied because the information the culprits have is good enough for either debits or credits to the account.

As penance, I would expect Mr. Clarkson to honour this Direct Debit to the Diabetes UK charity for at least a year whilst the bank works at completely changing his account details from what was published.

It also shows why our liberties have to be protected by preventing the government from acquiring more data than they require to transact any business. The fact that the Data Protection Act would not allow for the banks to pursue the “criminal” who showed up this problem of loose data management is a great enlightenment for all.