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...just the opposite in fact. The CIA have a major stake in it, along with many dodgy multinationals......
A California software developer is offering a free Internet service to bring back the halcyon days of anonymous surfing, allowing Net users to evade Web bugs designed to spy on them and to get around programs that employers use to track what workers are doing online.
And guess who is helping finance the new generation of technology to keep your Web surfing secret from prying eyes? It's one of Washington's most secretive agencies, the CIA, which has a vested interest in seeing the Internet remain as anonymous as possible.
Jon Chun, president and co-founder of Safeweb, an Oakland, Calif., software developer, said he was initially reluctant to allow the CIA to invest in his technology, but now believes that the CIA connection will work to the company's benefit.
"It's a bit of holy water -- if we can meet the standards of the CIA, we can sell our technology to government and business," Chun said. The company makes its money from licensing fees but Chun said Safeweb will always be free to consumers.
With surveys finding that a quarter of Internet users are alarmed about their loss of privacy, Internet service providers could find that Safeweb will reassure customers about the safety of Internet surfing.
The technology can be used to hide from advertising companies who are tracking Internet users with "cookies," Web bugs, and pop up ads. By using Safeweb as an intermediary site, advertisers will not be able to determine who is viewing their sites, track where they go afterward, or monitor their Internet activity over time.
Using Safeweb also evades software that schools and libraries have installed on computers to limit Internet sites students can visit. It also gets around snooping software that some employers have put on their networks to cut down on employee misuse of the Internet. Snooping systems only record that the employee visited the Safeweb site, and not what was done on the Internet afterward.
The Direct Marketing Association, representing the mass marketing industry, said technologies like Safeweb can provide much tighter anonymity for Net surfers than any of the privacy bills being considered in Congress.
"We think you are looking at the situation where privacy on the Internet is going to be better provided by technological innovation," said Jerry Cerasale, the association's senior vice president for government operations. He said direct marketers are opposed to legislation because they fear America's move to regulate the Internet would set a precedent for other countries to impose their own regulations, which could be far more restrictive.
Some foreign countries don't like the new technologies. Saudi Arabia last month blocked Saudi citizens from using Safeweb's site to evade monitoring. Saudi communications are funneled through a single intelligence center in Riyadh, where censors monitor the political sites Saudis visit.
Chun said he is developing new software called Triangle Boy for use in Middle East and Asian countries that will defeat government-owned telephone monopolies, and allow people in Iran, Iraq and China to log through proxy servers to get Voice of America and Radio Free Europe programs or send e-mail. Triangle Boy works by spoofing the addresses, making censors believe the computers are just making a routine connection to another computer.
Safeweb's CIA funding came through In-Q-Tel, a Northern Virginia company created by the CIA in 1999 to encourage development of Internet technologies that the agency finds useful.
CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that the agency wants to find new ways of exploiting the communication capabilities of the Internet, while maintaining the CIA's traditional secrecy.
Chu said the CIA funding amounts to a small proportion of the $8 million the company raised, largely through New York venture capital firms. But the link between the company and the agency already has sparked a discussion on Internet chat groups, where some users say they won't use Safeweb because of its CIA connection. The Internet itself was developed by the Pentagon.
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