Imagine waking up to dreadful news that all your medical information, bank information, or even private photos have been leaked online? This is a harsh reality that we all face in today’s digital era. While digital technologies have enabled us to connect and collaborate in unprecedented ways, they have also created new challenges to our privacy and digital rights.
Privacy is a complex and essential concept that is often taken for granted in today’s digital age. With the proliferation of mobile devices, laptops, social media accounts, and cloud-based services, we are increasingly living our lives online. Yet, how many of us have stopped to consider what privacy really means in this context? It’s easy to think that our digital lives are private and secure, protected by measures such as passwords, encryption, and data protection laws. However, the reality is that privacy can sometimes be little more than a facade. The powers that be can and have accessed our private online data, often without our knowledge or consent. The Snowden revelations are just but one example of the numerous privacy breaches and violations that have occurred in recent years. These incidents have highlighted the need for a critical understanding of privacy and digital rights in today’s digital world. By understanding the importance of privacy and digital rights, and advocating for their protection, we can create a more equitable and trustworthy digital environment that respects individual dignity and supports collective well-being.
In this blog, we’re going to dive into the essential values that must be protected and promoted in the digital age to safeguard our personal information and preserve our autonomy, while maintaining a just and democratic society. As individuals and communities, we need to be aware of our rights and responsibilities in the online space, and actively engage in advocating for better privacy and digital rights laws, policies, and practices. By doing so, we can help build a more ethical, equitable, and sustainable digital future for all.
What are Privacy and digital rights?
It’s no secret that privacy and digital rights are two critical concepts that are becoming increasingly relevant in our lives today. With the widespread use of social media and a spate of high-profile security breaches, people are getting increasingly wary of their personal information falling into the wrong hands. This heightened awareness has prompted many countries to pass new privacy laws that have far-reaching consequences. As such, as a community it is essential to understand what these terms mean and why they matter.
Privacy can be a bit of a tricky concept to define, especially when you’re trying to come up with clear guidelines for how it should be applied in different situations. That being said, for our purposes here, we’re going to go with this definition: “Privacy is neither a right to secrecy nor a right to control but a right to the appropriate flow of personal information” (Nissenbaum, 2010). This means that privacy gives us the ability to control access to our personal information and activities, and to decide how, when, and to whom we share it.
Digital rights on the other hand are basic human rights in the internet era. The rights to online privacy and freedom of expression, for example, are extensions of the equal and inalienable rights laid out in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (World Economic Forum).
It is important to note that the right to privacy is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 12), which recognizes it as a fundamental human right that should be protected by law. However, privacy laws and regulations vary widely across different countries and regions, and there are often conflicting interests and values at play. For instance, some countries prioritize national security and public safety over individual privacy, while others place a greater emphasis on personal autonomy and freedom. This can lead to challenges in protecting the privacy and digital rights, especially in cases where they conflict with other rights and interests (United Nations).
Understanding Privacy and Digital Rights
As we navigate the digital age, understanding our rights to privacy and digital rights is essential. Simply put, privacy refers to the right to control personal information, while digital rights encompasses a wide range of issues such as free speech, net neutrality, and access to information online. These rights are protected by laws and regulations in many countries, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the United States Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
There are several different types of digital rights that we need to be aware of. The right to access information, for example, refers to our ability to access information online without censorship or restriction. The right to free speech online is also crucial, as it allows us to express ourselves without fear of retribution or censorship. Additionally, the right to anonymity is important for protecting our privacy online (Karppinen & Puukko, 2020). This means that we should be able to use the internet without having to reveal our true identities unless we choose to do so.
Nonetheless, as consumers we need to understand the context to which we are sharing our information.
“Respect for Context means consumers have a right to expect that companies will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the [social] context in which consumers provide the data.”Nissenbaum, 2018
This means that we should expect certain companies to use our information in ways that are already agreed upon for business purposes. This is usually evidenced in the “Terms and Conditions of Service” once we sign-up or register for a particular online service or platform.
Unfortunately, protecting our privacy and digital rights is becoming increasingly difficult when the powers that be act with disregard to consumers’ privacy concerns. One such challenge that we face is government surveillance which can involve the collection of personal information without individuals’ consent or knowledge. Governments around the world use various technologies to monitor our online activities which can be a violation of our privacy and digital rights. As we will see later, such is the case with Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, which spurred a worldwide debate on the violation of data privacy by the US government. The revelations sparked a global debate on privacy and surveillance, and put a spotlight on the need for greater protection of our digital rights.
Edward Snowden and the NSA Surveillance Program
In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), shocked the world when he leaked classified information revealing the extent of the U.S. government’s surveillance programs. Snowden in his revelations showed that the government through the NSA surveillance program was collecting massive amounts of data on American citizens as well as individuals and leaders in many countries around the world. These leaks by a former government operator led to the prominence of the debate on the challenges that exist in protecting the privacy and digital rights in today’s digital age (MacAskill, et.al. 2013).
For us to better understand Snowden’s case, it is essential to know a little about his background and motivations. Snowden was a computer expert who worked for several different government agencies, including the CIA and the NSA. In 2013, he began leaking classified information to journalists, including Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, who then published stories in The Guardian and The Washington Post. Snowden’s motivations for leaking this information were largely based on his concerns about the government’s violation of privacy rights. He believed that the government was collecting massive amounts of data on individuals without their knowledge or consent, and that this violated both the U.S. Constitution and to a large scale international law. He also believed that the government was lying to the public about the extent of its surveillance activities which fueled his urge to notify the general public about this data and privacy violation (Guardian News and Media, 2013).
The implications of Snowden’s revelations are significant and far-reaching. For one, it sparked a global debate about privacy and security in the digital age. His revelations showed that governments around the world were collecting vast amounts of data on individuals, which raised questions about the balance between security and privacy. Not only was the government collecting data on people involved in suspicious activities, but also the 3rd connection; meaning the NSA spied on people ‘3-hops’ from its targets. These three degrees of separation add to the network being spied on to unnecessarily massive numbers (MacAskill, et.al. 2013). Not only did these revelations lead to a loss of trust in government institutions, but also an increased demand for transparency.
On the bright side, Snowden’s actions led to a series of reforms and new laws aimed at improving transparency and oversight of government surveillance activities. For example, the U.S. Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which was designed to limit the government’s ability to collect data on individuals. The European Union also passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which strengthened privacy protections for EU citizens. In addition to legislative reforms, Snowden’s revelations also led to changes in corporate behaviour. Tech companies like Google and Apple began to implement stronger encryption and privacy protections for their users. This exposé also sparked a movement towards the development of new tools and technologies to protect the privacy and digital rights (Childress, 2015).
What’s Our Role as Individuals and the Community?
“The public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the ‘consent of the governed’ is meaningless”
Individual agency is important in advocating for, and ensuring that privacy and digital rights are protected. The case of Edward Snowden and the NSA surveillance program underscores the crucial role of individuals and communities in advocating for better privacy and digital rights laws, policies, and practices. Snowden’s actions highlight the need for individuals to take a critical approach to the technologies and services they use and to demand accountability from the organizations that collect and use their personal data.
To advocate for better privacy and digital rights laws, individuals can start by educating themselves and others about the importance of these issues. This can involve staying up-to-date with developments in digital rights and sharing information and resources with others. Additionally, individuals can support organizations and groups that work to protect digital rights, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation or the American Civil Liberties Union.
At the community level, there are many ways in which individuals can come together to advocate for better privacy and digital rights. This could involve joining or supporting civil society organizations that work on these issues such as Electronic Frontier Foundation or the American Civil Liberties Union.
Another way to actively advocate for better privacy and digital rights would be participating in public debates and discussions, and engaging with elected officials and policymakers to push for stronger privacy protections. It is important for us to recognize the big role that legislators play in ensuring there’s better oversight to data privacy in the public domain. Similarly, community members can also work together to create and share educational resources that help others better understand the risks and challenges of the digital age, and the tools and strategies that can be used to protect privacy and digital rights. By building coalitions and working together, communities can amplify their voices and effect change on a larger scale (Remensperger, Henderson, & Cendic, 2018).
The case of Edward Snowden and the NSA surveillance program highlights the need for individuals and communities to take an active role in advocating for better privacy and digital rights protections. By educating themselves and others, supporting organizations that promote digital rights, and engaging in community advocacy efforts, individuals and communities can help create a safer, more autonomous digital space for all. It is essential for everyone to understand the importance of privacy and digital rights in today’s digital world and to take steps to protect these values.
At the end of the day
The importance of privacy and digital rights in today’s digital world cannot be overstated. While digital technologies have enabled us to connect and collaborate in unprecedented ways, they have also created new challenges to our privacy and digital rights. As individuals and communities, we need to understand our rights and responsibilities in the online space and actively engage in advocating for better online privacy, digital rights laws, policies, and practices. It is important to recognize that privacy and digital rights are human rights that should be protected and promoted in the digital age. By doing so, we can help build a more ethical, equitable, and sustainable digital future for all. It is crucial to remember that protecting our privacy and digital rights is not just about safeguarding our personal information and preserving our autonomy, but also about maintaining a just and democratic society.
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