National Security VS Users’ Digital Rights

In recent years, social media has become a part of human life. People are willing to share personal information such as files, photos and messages on social media platforms. However, it is worth noting that new media such as social media sites have become a major way to leak personal privacy. Not only are we browsing the Internet, we are also being browsed by the Internet, and our personal information and web browsing history are permanently recorded. Different social networking platforms will provide customized information services to users based on the acquired user information big data and precise analysis of their usage habits, interests and action trajectories.Users are frequently unaware of which of their personal information is being collected, where it is being stored, how long it will be stored for, and what will be done with it. These electronic footprints enable third parties to create a picture of user behaviour (Tuunainen et al., 2009). Social media platforms are not only vulnerable to privacy breaches, but in some countries and regions the state strictly controls the freedom of expression of Internet users. Top-down interventions for social media platform users in China, for example, have attempted to balance the free movement of information with national security (Flew, 2022b, p. 193). So the issue of privacy and digital rights is more urgent than ever. This paper first examines the current state of social media users’ privacy and digital rights, and considers the relationship between national security and users’ digital rights using the 2015 FBI-Apple encryption dispute as a case study.

What are Internet Privacy and Digital Rights? Digital Rights and Internet Privacy are Closely Related

The right to privacy on the Internet refers to the ability to keep, reuse, and provide information about oneself to third parties for display on the Internet at the user’s discretion (Contributors to Wikimedia projects, 2023b). The right to internet privacy is a part of digital rights, which relate to a user’s legitimate access to a computer and cover all social media and communication networks. For instance, the freedom of speech and the right to content privacy in emerging technologies (Contributors to Wikimedia projects, 2023a). The truth is that governments or online social media sites frequently violate users’ online privacy and digital rights.

Facebook Data Breach 2018 – Use of User Data by Media Platforms

The use of users’ personal data by social media platforms is the most serious problem concerning online privacy and digital rights. Before you can access social media, media platforms will request location authorization, address book authorization, microphone authorization, and so on, which clearly contradicts the intended functionality of the media platform. Users are also requested to agree to a service agreement and a privacy policy, and this ‘user agreement’ is essentially a notice of how their information will be used in advance. This service agreement’s content is difficult for most users to comprehend and contains a lot of technical terms. You may be barred from using the media platform if you do not agree to the terms, and you may not be informed if the terms change. As a result, these conditions confer a plethora of rights on digital platforms and service providers, and the platforms have unrivalled bargaining power over their users (Flew, 2022a, p. 103). Once the platform has the information, it may share the user’s browsing history, personal information, and other data that can be used to target advertisements with third-party businesses or advertisers. For example, in 2018, Facebook was hit with a major data breach scandal in which the British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica collected the personal data of millions of Facebook users without their consent and collaborated with Donald Trump’s election team to obtain the Facebook profiles of millions of U.S. voters in the Brexit campaign and analyse the system individually U.S. voters in order to deliver personalised political ads to them. This breach emphasises the need for improved data security and stricter privacy laws.

Government Surveillance of Internet — Netizen Chilling Effect

The government’s use of surveillance technologies is another problem concerning privacy and digital rights. Governments in some nations or areas have the authority to monitor their citizens’ online activities, including their social media interactions and email conversations. Such surveillance can have a ‘chilling effect’ on free expression, which is a deterrent effect on free expression. People are scared to speak out for fear of being punished by the law or facing large fines, which will lead to a lack of interest in public affairs and is seen as an undesirable result of overly restricting speech or overly defending one’s own interests (Contributors to Wikimedia projects, 2023c). In China, for example, the Decision on Strengthening the Protection of Information on the Internet, passed in 2012, contains provisions requiring citizens to provide their real identity when posting information online.The requirement for ‘real-name registration’ makes it simpler for government authorities to trace the identity of online speakers, and users are unable to express their views anonymously or safeguard their privacy for fear of retaliation for posting criticism of the government.Yufu Zhu, a writer, was sentenced to seven years in jail in February 2012 for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ after posting poems calling for political change in reaction to the Arab Spring. Bill Clinton, a former president of the United States, is renowned for saying that China’s efforts to regulate online speech are manifestly at odds with the liberalising and decentralised tendency of online digital technology itself (Flew, 2022c, p. 206). Any limitations on the right to freedom of speech may be viewed as a violation of human rights because it is a fundamental human right. In summary, the government should scale back its intrusive speech monitoring of Internet users while still reasonably defending their right to free expression.

FBI VS Apple

What if national security and users’ digital rights conflict? The government and state are not allowed to violate users’ online privacy or freedom of speech. In the context of the 2015 FBI-Apple encryption dispute, the relationship between national security and users’ internet privacy is examined below. The FBI acquired the iPhone of one of the gunmen in an ISIS-sponsored terrorist attack in December 2015, which resulted in the tragic deaths of fourteen people. The FBI requested Apple to build a backdoor to bypass the encryption on one of the terrorists’ iPhones as part of its investigation. Apple declined the request, claiming that building such a backdoor would violate iPhone users’ data privacy. The case proceeded to court, and the FBI withdrew its request in 2016 after being able to access data on the iPhone via a third party (The FBI & Apple Security vs. Privacy, 2016). From the standpoint of national security, the FBI thinks that access to encrypted data on the iPhone could significantly reduce the likelihood of future crimes. However, Apple’s refusal was motivated by the desire to safeguard its users’ online privacy.The case has sparked a heated debate about the balance between maintaining national security and protecting users’ digital rights.

The Role and Limitations of ‘General Data Protection Regulation’ (GDPR)

This case shows the tension between users’ digital rights and security, and gives us some insight into balancing the two. For dealing with both, some countries have enacted regulations. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which regulates the gathering, use, and processing of personal data in the EU, went into effect in May 2018. It seeks to protect EU citizens’ privacy rights and to establish Europe as a global privacy regulator (Goggin, 2023). The requirement for companies to obtain explicit consent from individuals before collecting, processing, and storing their personal data is a key feature of the GDPR, which means that individuals have more control over their personal information and can choose not to share their data information with others. In this regard, the FBI’s proposal violates the GDPR’s legal requirements. However, the GDPR allows the state to process personal data in the case of a breach of national security. So, in this instance, the FBI can claim national security while also demonstrating that such a request is extremely necessary and taking effective measures to protect the user’s data. The GDPR, however, has some restrictions. The regulation prohibits the transfer of personal data to countries or regions outside the EU that lack data protection laws, which can stymie international collaboration on security issues. At the same time, the GDPR requires that personal data be processed only if there is a legal reason for doing so, which can make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to access and process data in times of urgency or when dealing with transnational cases. Furthermore, the GDPR has the potential to waive personal data protection in moments of national security emergency. While the GDPR has limitations, it represents a national focus on protecting personal privacy in the digital age and a heightened awareness of privacy precautions.

What do Individual Users and Media Platforms have to do?

In addition to enacting laws that address the relationship between digital rights and national security, users should be more aware of the need to prevent surveillance and disclosure of their identity information, as demonstrated by the dispute between the FBI and Apple. Individuals should also be aware of legal policies governing the balance of national security and personal digital rights, which will assist users in understanding when, where, and how personal information is used, as well as how to secure it if it is compromised. If the government intends to use users’ private data for surveillance purposes, the activities should be open and transparent, and they should be monitored by a professional agency to ensure that they do not exceed the legal framework. The FBI-Apple encryption dispute demonstrates the importance of technology firms. The controversy also highlights the crucial role that tech giants like Apple play in influencing public policy and fostering an equilibrium between citizens’ digital rights and security needs. Apple’s decision to turn down the fbi’s request sparked a surge in public support for privacy safeguards. Technology firms or media platforms can routinely release lucid reports that highlight the quantity and nature of requests for user data access the platform gets from the government. Users might be able to hold media companies responsible for their activities and gain a better understanding of how the government uses their data.

More Effective Measures to Balance the Two still Need to be Discovered

In conclusion, as the use of social media continues to grow, data generated by users of these applications has both improved people’s lives and sparked concerns about privacy and digital rights. The privacy and freedom of speech of users are seriously threatened by the use of personal data by social media sites and government surveillance technologies. The ambiguous language of user agreements gives media companies unprecedented control over user data. Government surveillance of citizens’ online activities can have a ‘chilling effect’ on the right to free speech, and any limitations on this right may be viewed as a violation of human rights, so governments should scale back their overzealous monitoring of online users’ speech. The 2015 FBI-Apple encryption disagreement serves as a case study for how laws can be passed to settle conflicts between users’ digital rights and national security. The EU’s GDPR law is one of the current measures, but it has some drawbacks, including making it harder for nations to work together internationally, making it more difficult for law enforcement to handle urgent or international cases, and foregoing the latter when national security and privacy are at odds. It is also possible to strike a balance between the two by encouraging user awareness and having technology firms influence public policy. The aforementioned safeguards for users’ digital rights and combining them with national security are just a rough draught; better ones will need to be found in the future.

Word Count: 1980

Reference List:

Contributors to Wikimedia projects. (2023a, February 23). Digital rights. Wikipedia. 

Contributors to Wikimedia projects. (2023b, March 19). Internet privacy. Wikipedia. 

Contributors to Wikimedia projects. (2023c, March 28). Chilling effect. Wikipedia. 

Goggin, G. (2023). ARIN6902  Internet Cultures and Governance, lecture, week 4: Issues of Concern: Privacy, Security and Digital Rights [PowerPoint slides]. University of 

Sydney Canvas.  

Flew, T. (2022a). Regulating platforms. Polity.

Flew, T. (2022b). Regulating platforms. Polity.

Flew, T. (2022c). Regulating platforms. Polity.

The FBI & Apple security vs. privacy. (2016, October 7). Ethics Unwrapped.    

Tuunainen, V. K., Pitkänen, O., & Hovi, M. (2009). Users’ awareness of privacy on online social networking sites-case facebook. Bled 2009 proceedings, 42. 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply