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Theme: Identity, privacy & presence

[Press release. 16 January 2008, Amsterdam NL]

"bridging the digital privacy divide, by boosting the use of encryption and standards in online communication"

Dutch charitative venture capitalist NLnet has picked online confidentiality as one of its two main themes for 2008. The Foundation wants to bridge the digital divide of privacy between corporations and governments moving to adopt tools allowing fully encrypted communication while private individuals are left without protection. Once safer technologies are available consumers will be able to successfully use them and demand them from service providers.

"Controlling who can reach you and who has access to your communication has been a weak point of mainstream internet communication," states NLnet's strategy manager Michiel Leenaars, pointing to both the dominance of players like Skype, MSN and AOL on the one hand as well as the enormous growth of `lawful intercept' activities around the world. "It's like not owning your own doorbel, and at the same time being broadcasted live over the radio with every single conversation you have. That is not going to work --not in private life, but surely also not in business."

NLnet's activities are backed up by a significant trust fund that was created at the sale of the first ISP in the Netherlands a decade ago. Since then, the foundation has spent a vast amount of money on open standards, open source and community building. The foundation believes that with the convergence of all modern communication technologies towards the internet there is a window of opportunity to break into the market and recapture some of the privacy that was lost in recent years.

"Confidentiality is not a crime, it is a basic element of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," says Leenaars. "Especially in repressive political systems, but also in democracies under threat of irresponsible anti-terrorism measurements --like the European data retention directive-- we need technological guarantees to ensure that the private domain is again separated from the public domain and from commercial misuse."

For 2008, the focus in this area will be on safe, trustworthy and robust realtime presence and session technology as an enabler for privacy. The foundation will focus on technology development as well as creating awareness, and will be actively pursuing the further enhancement of online privacy and standardisation in internet based communication and presence tools such as voice, chat and videoconferencing. The foundation has already started funding work on open source implementation of internet standards such as SIP/SIMPLE and MSRP through its open calls, but will increase its activities after this recent board decision.