Privacy is a basic human right. We all value our privacy. Privacy or they lack of privacy effects every minute of our day. There are somethings you only do privately. Your behaviour changes depending on whether you are in public or in private. You speak to friends, acquaintances and strangers differently. If you have a difficult question, or to report a crime, it can help to be anonymous, to maintain your privacy and still communicate with others.
Most people have heard about online privacy and government surveillance. And many people think, “Well, I don’t have anything to hide. I’m not doing anything wrong.” There are two serious problems with this opinion.
Why you need privacy
First, every online device has a unique IP address, like a license plate on a car. Let’s say you go to a cafe with your laptop to check your email. You log in to the cafe’s wifi and instantly “the internet” knows you are at 123 Main St., USA. Now you log into you email account and instantly “the internet” knows your name and location. You write an email to you mother and instantly “the internet” knows who you know, and when they check their email, “the internet” knows where they are and that they know you. Next, let’s say you search the term “low blood sugar” and now “the internet” thinks you are a diabetic. If you check your spam folder in your email, you may already be getting emails about your diabetes. And soon, “the internet” can tell your insurance provider to raise your rates. Except it isn’t the internet, it’s corporations like Google, Microsoft, Apple, your insurance company, any website you visit, and anyone willing to pay a small fee for the information. And these companies and many governments collect everything.
How to protect your privacy and the privacy of others
Second, online privacy is human rights issue. Imagine you are in a room (the internet) with thousands of other people from all over the world. One of the people in the room is a human rights activist in North Korea and the North Korean police are looking for her. Let’s say she needs to communicate with the outside world so she can get out. She puts on a mask so the police don’t recognize her. But of the thousands of folks in the room, only a few are wearing a mask. It’s not too difficult for the police to figure out who is who. Just grab the folks in masks. But there is something we can do to help her and the thousands of people around the world who are fighting repressive governments, corporate malfeasance or whatever. If thousands of us put on a mask, suddenly it is much harder for the police in North Korea to figure out which one of us they are looking for. Even if they do figure it out eventually, we slowed them down and maybe that woman in North Korea has enough time to communicate with those across the border so she can get out. By worrying about your own personal privacy, you can actually save lives around the world.
You don’t have to be a cryptographer or a rocket scientist to fix privacy issues online. With just a few programs or apps, a little knowledge and a few changes to your routine, you can protect yourself and people around the world. You can be a part of defending human rights from the comfort of your desk. And you’ll also be protecting your self. Be part of the solution, not the problem.