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Year 2013 showed privacy is an illusion in cyberspace

Snowden shed light on US' surveillance system, PRISM; Google data showed US made 10,918 requests for information, followed by India's 2,691

Pavan Duggal  |  New Delhi 

2013 has truly been a tumultuous year from every aspect, be it the Syrian unrest, the Snowden revelations or Typhoon Haiyan in Phillipines. However, 2013 has seen a lot of debate on issues related to cyberspace. Before stepping into the New Year, its time to reflect on the past, so to have a head start in 2014.

The most talked about cyberspace event of 2013 was the Snowden revelations which brought to the light the Surveillance system PRISM, of the US. The revelations have made one thing clear, the privacy on the is an illusion. Vint Cert, vice president and Chief Evangelist for Google has already stated that Privacy may be an Anomaly.

It in now a known fact that nations across the world are interested in the data that is being generated on the
As per Google’s latest Transparency Report, the US made a total of 10,918 requests for information to Google during January-June 2013, followed by India’s 2,691, Germany’s 2,311, France’s 2,011 and the UK’s 1,274 and Brazil’s 1,239 in nations, which made over a 1,000 user data requests.

2013 saw numerous cases of violation of privacy by intermediaries. Recently, Google reached a $17 million settlement with 37 US states and the District of Columbia over its unauthorised placement of cookies on devices running Apple’s Safari browser. Further, Google agreed to pay a $7-million fine after a three-year investigation by a coalition of state attorneys general found the search giant's Street View vehicles had collected private data from home and business networks. Google is also being fined €900,000 ($1.23 million) for breaking Spain’s data protection law, the maximum fine possible under the law.

There was a lot of buzz about cyber crimes and mobile crimes, which did the rounds in 2013. Cybercrime and cyberspying are costing the US economy $100 billion a year and the global economy perhaps $300 billion annually. Seven million people in Canada have been victims of cybercrime in the past 12 months. The average cost of cybercrime per victim is roughly $380. Globally, the cost of cybercrime has risen to $113 billion, or just under $300 per victim. India lost a total of $8 billion dollars to cyber crime over the past year, with close to 42 million people targeted by online fraudsters.

The year 2013 also saw the growth and evolution of Mobile Law as jurisprudential subject. World over, the number of mobiles increased dramatically. Mobile-cellular penetration rates stand at 96% globally; 128% in developed countries; and 89% in developing countries. In 2013, there are almost as many mobile-cellular subscriptions as people in the world, with more than half in the Asia-Pacific region (3.5 billion out of 6.8 billion total subscriptions).

Appification of society today is growing at a very rapid pace. More and more societies across the world are increasingly adopting mobile apps. "Appification" is the process of providing apps to do the things that would otherwise be done manually. Appification has been defined as App on Every Device or one app for one purpose. The advent of appification of society has resulted in various legal, policy and regulatory issues which need to be addressed.

2013 saw ICANN work on gTLD Directory Services. In November, 2013 the working group of ICANN published the Status Update Report from the Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services: A Next Generation Registration Directory Service. As the process of introducing new GTLDs moved forward, new GTLDs promise to change the landscape of the world as far as the use of domain names are concerned. However, the new GTLDs are further likely to come up with their own complicated legal, policy and regulatory issues in this regard.

Some of the other Cyberlaw challenges of 2013 that were highlighted relate to the growing popularity of Bitcoins, a virtual currency, and its use in the black market and the numerous attacks by cybercriminals on the Bitcoin exchanges.

Ransomware as a phenomenon also emerged in 2013. In fact, the McAfee Labs Threats Report Third Quarter 2013, stated, "Ransom ware has become an increasing problem during the last several quarters and the situation continues to worsen. The number of new, unique samples this quarter is greater than 312,000, slightly less than last quarter but still the second highest figure recorded by the firm". The report crowned India as the ransomware capital of Asia Pacific. Cyberlaw regimes need to have in place effective mechanisms in place to address the challenges of ransomware.

Social media as a phenomenon continues to grow at a rapid pace bringing to the forefront the new legal and regulatory challenges in this regard.

The two day Seoul Conference on Cyberspace 2013 wrapped up with agreement on the ‘Seoul Framework and commitments’ on cyberspace. This framework states that international law must also be applied to cyberspace. The ‘Seoul Framework’ offers guidelines for governments and international organisations on coping with cybercrime and cyberwar. It highlights the importance of boosting internet access, particularly for developing countries, for education, development and to ensure freedom of information and expression.

The year 2013 has set tone for the further growth and development of jurisprudence in the year 2014. From a Cyberlaw scholar’s perspective, it is always interesting to see each year and its contribution to the further growth and evolution of Cyberlaw as jurisprudence. The Cyberlaw events that have happened globally in the year 2013 have provided a platform on which further development and growth of Cyberlaw jurisprudence across the world is going to take place in the year 2014.

The author is an advocate at the Supreme Court of India and a cyberlaw expert

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First Published: Thu, December 26 2013. 11:54 IST