Senators, Software Battle for Privacy

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2002-08-12 Print this article Print

The Anonymizer test picked through my security system as if it were a suitcase lock.

Its coincidental that Anonymizer—one of the two mainstream privacy proxies in business—released a new version the same week that two senators released a statement that Americans need more privacy assurances.

The senators—Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and John Edwards, D-N.C., are not only concerned about Internet spying and unchecked camera surveillance, but theyre also concerned that if nothing is done to protect privacy immediately in this anti-terrorism climate, citizens will never gain back some freedoms that existed just a year ago.

Theyre right, even though partisan politics may be at play. Things such as the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the USA Patriot Act are written vaguely enough to be subject to interpretation. Schumer and Edwards are pushing for clearer definitions.

The tech industry is also responding. Anonymizing proxy services for allowing users to untraceably surf the Web have gone largely underground. The mainstream services that remain are Megaproxy and Anonymizer. These two services are de-emphasizing anonymous surfing capabilities and targeting enterprise consumers with safety and security features. Both sites, for example, can be used to prevent scripts from running.

The Anonymizer Web site includes snoop tests that show how vulnerable you might be. Even though Id been using Zero Knowledges Freedom and have a firewall, the Anonymizer test picked through my security system as if it were a miniature suitcase lock.

Zero Knowledge began its life as a highly sophisticated proxy server. The company gained fame for exposing, among other things, a flaw in the Pentium III random ID generator. Zero Knowledge calls itself a privacy and security company, but its out of the anonymizing business. The SafeWeb service was widely believed to be funded by the U.S. government so people in other countries could surf U.S. propaganda ... er, I mean Web sites. After Sept. 11, SafeWeb developed extranet security appliance components.

Im not that worried about my own privacy, but Im still more worried than 99 percent of the population. People should be somewhat nervous, but these technical and legislative steps might create the checks and balances necessary to protect personal freedoms.

Are you worried? Write to me at

As the director of eWEEK Labs, John manages a staff that tests and analyzes a wide range of corporate technology products. He has been instrumental in expanding eWEEK Labs' analyses into actual user environments, and has continually engineered the Labs for accurate portrayal of true enterprise infrastructures. John also writes eWEEK's 'Wide Angle' column, which challenges readers interested in enterprise products and strategies to reconsider old assumptions and think about existing IT problems in new ways. Prior to his tenure at eWEEK, which started in 1994, Taschek headed up the performance testing lab at PC/Computing magazine (now called Smart Business). Taschek got his start in IT in Washington D.C., holding various technical positions at the National Alliance of Business and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, he and his colleagues assisted the government office with integrating the Windows desktop operating system with HUD's legacy mainframe and mid-range servers.

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