CleanIT Project: concerns for a Global Surveillance Project

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Plagiarist Paganini


(Translated from the original Italian)

I just returned from the Cyber Threat Summit in Dublin, one of the most interesting European events in cyber security that gave me the opportunity to share opinion notes with expert professionals of international security context.  The event revealed an alarming scenario on the main cyber threats, no matter if it is cybercrime, hacktivism, cyber terrorism or cyber warfare, all those ambits share a worrying growth of cyber attacks that are influencing our digital lives and not only.

One of the most debated arguments is the need to protect the digital identity that is daily menaced, highlighting the need to improve cyber counter measures to protect our privacy and at same time grant a sufficient  level of security to network resources.

Of course one of the most effective measures is the increasing of systems for the network monitoring, despite the resistance of internet users that claim their digital rights, many governments are implementing and deploying, in a more or less transparent, technologies for massive surveillances.

Network appliances for massive analysis, systems for automated analysis of social networks and powerful systems for facial recognition are only few of the different solutions that many governments are deploying.

Today I read a news regarding a project promoted by the European Commission to fight terrorism online that describe a wide-ranging surveillance.

Apparently a leaked document, published by European digital rights group EDRi revealed the possible impact on civil liberties of a project named The CleanIT that was set up to improve the exacerbate the fight against cyber terrorism.

The impact on internet users and their privacy is dramatic, let's consider that Internet Service Providers should be held liable for their operate in terms of surveillance on possible use of internet made by terrorists.

In internet are circulating two different documents that both refer CleanIT, the official one that reports only recommendations provided by the authors and the leaked one "Detailed Recommendations Document."

The "public" version of the document appears quite different from the document posted by EDRi, but the project leader of the official proposal, But Klassen, declared that the leaked version was created collecting observations expressed during a debate on the project.

"The term 'recommendations' on the food for discussion document is misleading, we shouldn't have used that term. These are just ideas that we are collecting. Everything everyone says at the meeting is written down, but the public document contains the points that we have reached a consensus on,"

One of the main concern is related to the recommendations to improve the monitoring of social media, platforms that are considerable great mines of information that could be aggregate to prepare "any kind" of analysis, just the misuse of the data collected by governments is one of the principal concern for the organizations that defend the rights of internet users.

The proposed measures are very stringent, the document states that is illegal to divulge and propose "knowingly" references to terrorist contents.

The proposals have with main objective the avoidance of anonymity access to web services, internet users have to be identified.

“CleanIT wants binding engagements from internet companies to carry out surveillance, to block and to filter (albeit only at “end user” - meaning local network - level). It wants a network of trusted online informants and, contrary to everything that they have ever said, they also want new, stricter legislation from Member States.”

The post of EDRi group reminds that the project is financed by DG Communications Networks of the European Commission that operates without coordination limiting in sensible way the users operations on internet

CleanIT (terrorism), financed by DG Home Affairs of the European Commission is duplicating much of the work of the CEO Coalition (child protection), which is financed by DG Communications Networks of the European Commission. Both are, independently and without coordination, developing policies on issues such as reporting buttons and flagging of possibly illegal material. Both CleanIT and the CEO Coalition are duplicating each other's work on creating “voluntary” rules for notification and removal of possibly illegal content and are jointly duplicating the evidence-based policy work being done by DG Internal Market of the European Commission, which recently completed a consultation on this subject. Both have also been discussing upload filtering, to monitor all content being put online by European citizens.”

But Klassen refuted allegations by EDRi that the project has overstepped its mandate sustaining that the team of CleanIT has to complete the final design by next March.

Other Key measures being proposed for the project are:

  • Removal of any legislation preventing filtering/surveillance of employees' Internet connections
  • Law enforcement authorities should be able to have content removed “without following the more labour-intensive and formal procedures for 'notice and action'”
  • “Knowingly” providing links to “terrorist content” (the draft does not refer to content which has been ruled to be illegal by a court, but undefined “terrorist content” in general) will be an offence “just like” the terrorist
  • ISPs to be held liable for not making “reasonable” efforts to use technological surveillance to identify (undefined) “terrorist” use of the Internet
  • Companies providing end-user filtering systems and their customers should be liable for failing to report “illegal” activity identified by the filter
  • Customers should also be held liable for “knowingly” sending a report of content which is not illegal
  • Governments should use the helpfulness of ISPs as a criterion for awarding public contracts
  • The proposal on blocking lists contradict each other, on the one hand providing comprehensive details for each piece of illegal content and judicial references, but then saying that the owner can appeal (although if there was already a judicial ruling, the legal process would already have been at an end) and that filtering such be based on the “output” of the proposed content regulation body, the “European Advisory Foundation”
  • Blocking or “warning” systems should be implemented by social media platforms – somehow it will be both illegal to provide (undefined) “Internet services” to “terrorist persons” and legal to knowingly provide access to illegal content, while “warning” the end-user that they are accessing illegal content
  • The anonymity of individuals reporting (possibly) illegal content must be preserved... yet their IP address must be logged to permit them to be prosecuted if it is suspected that they are reporting legal content deliberately and to permit reliable informants' reports to be processed more quickly
  • Companies should implement upload filters to monitor uploaded content to make sure that content that is removed – or content that is similar to what is removed – is not re-uploaded
  • It proposes that content should not be removed in all cases but “blocked” (i.e. make inaccessible by the hosting provider – not “blocked” in the access provider sense) and, in other cases, left available online but with the domain name removed.

Despite governments today use systems for network monitoring with the aim of preventing criminal activities, particularly in combating terrorism, the project as shown in the leaked document represents a serious threat to freedom of thought and undermines the fundamental principles underlying the genesis of Internet.

It raises multiple perplexities such as

  • A misinterpretation of the project could cause first the violation of the right to anonymity often discussed and debated in the network.
  • Such preventive measures may also lead to perverse mechanisms that can divert to other communication channels criminal groups with the result that would undermine the sole right to free expression of internet users.
  • It is extremely dangerous to attempt to legitimize similar projects in the name of security of a nation, the fight against crime, of whatever nature it is, have to be conducted through the establishment of a legal platform globally recognized, pushing the collaboration between the different government agencies that surely will fulfill the task of monitoring of networks but not as invasive as defined by the project.
  • What government and by what authority could operate according to the principles expressed in the document? Remember that cyberspace has no boundaries and think it could be reached an agreement of intent on a global scale is very difficult.
  • Similar projects could lead to a different geographical distribution of "illegal" whose effects would equally perceived by those countries which would align with the recommendations provided the project.

Do we really want this?

Pierluigi Paganini


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Michael Johnson I certainly don't. In fact, 80% the 'solutions' in the document and the assumptions their based on are seriously flawed - for example, the idea that terrorists do their planning and recruitment online, instead of in person, and the idea 'radicalizing content' could be (practically) filtered by software on a home PC. The author makes numerous bold statements regarding terrorism, but provides no citations whatsoever.

Then the idea of applying a 'real name' policy across the Internet, where everyone uses real images of themselves on social networks - I can think of numerous ways law-abiding people would be prejudiced, if not endangered, because of attribution between their online and real-world lives. The result would quite likely be identity theft on a massive scale. What happens after that...

And the author expects numerous 'virtual police', using their 'real identities', to be messing with organised criminals and terrorists? Maybe an exception to the 'real name' requireent could be made for 'virtual police', but that would then prove there are entirely valid reasons for anonymity.
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