University of Wisconsin–Madison

Heart of Darknet: Loss of Privacy and the Web

Technology and Loss of Privacy

Searching the Internet to locate information is a daily, if not hourly, activity for most of us.  It's also a standard practice for many businesses to use information located on the Internet.  For instance, it's common practice for a business, when reviewing a job application, to search social media sites as part of an employee background check.

Business, governments as well as private individuals and organizations have found that going online provides a wealth of valuable personal as well as professional information.

These search practices and the easy availability of the data, may be a boon to many organizations, but they also contribute to the erosion of  our privacy and according to How Privacy Vanishes Online,  the F.T. C. is concerned that privacy laws that once protected the individual have not kept up with the technology. 

Should We Concerned?

As Please Rob Me *demonstrates, a humorously named site that tracks individuals who announce online when they are not at home, it's becoming all too easy for strangers to locate our private information and use it to their advantage.

Are You a "Friend" of Law Enforcement?

Certainly, many use information found on the Web in fairly harmless ways, to track our buying habits, send us a birthday card or mine data that is useful for marketing purposes.   However, not everyone who tracks information posted online has good intentions.  Criminal also find the Web a useful tool and their activities are a concern for law enforcement.

Social media sites are a valuable resource for law enforcement investigations.  However, how the government uses our personal information is a concern for organizations who follow online privacy issues, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

In 2009, the EFF sent a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the U.S. Department of Justice for information on their investigative policies regarding searching social media sites and in March, the U.S. Department of Justice released an interim response letter on their policies.

Hiding in Plain Site

It's been estimated that approximately 1% of the information on the Web is part of the surface Web.  The Deep Web or the Invisible Web is described as information on the Internet that is not part of the surface Web and which cannot be located using a conventional search engine, that leaves the majority of online information in shadows, essentially invisible to all but those who know where to look. 

Most of these hidden sites are legitimate. Unfortunately, along with numerous legitimate purposes, there are reasons, not always legitimate, why someone might wish to vanish from the Web or blog anonymously:  criminals, terrorists, child abusers--all have reason hide their online activity. 

When those organizations and individuals post on the Web, it is no longer considered part of the Invisible Web, instead it is called the Darknet or Dark Web.

How to Hide in the Dark Web

To learn more about how individuals and organizations disappear from the Web, you can read the article titled, How to Vanish into the Dark Web, which discusses ways to "stay under the radar."  Another article, The Dark Side of the Web, describes the services which can, at least potentially, make it possible for criminals to have anonymity online. 

How to Search the Deep Web

Deeppeep is one resource that can help you search the Dark Web.  It is being developed by the University of Utah project, who are working to make more of the Deep Web accessible.  

For a general index and list of Deep Web resources, meta-search engines, databases and search tips, see the Online College Blog, 100 Useful Tips and Tools for Researching the Deep Web. 

Legal Resources on the Deep Web

If you would like to learn more about Invisible Web for legal research, see Bonnie Shucha's excellent article, Searching Smarter:  Finding Legal Resources on the Invisible Web.   Her article published in the Wisconsin Lawyer, describes the Invisible Web, and provides legal researchers with helpful tips for locating legal resources which a standard search engine hasn't indexed.

*'s service has been taken down for now, but there are several interesting articles about how not to over-share at this site.

Submitted by Jenny Zook, Reference Librarian on March 19, 2010

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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