Why I Fight For Privacy & Access

We can be free from mass surveillance and censorship. It takes all of us to fight it.

Why I Fight For Privacy & Access
Image credit: AccessNow.org | Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

We are entering multiple turning points in our current millennia. The evolution of technology has rapidly accelerated from the first personal computers built in a garage by Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak in the late 70s. Since then, we've become accustomed to welcoming technology into our lives, from the first commercially-viable personal computers to the internet, music players, game consoles, smartphones, and other "smart" enabled things. Without these pivotal technological advancements, it'd be hard to see life as we know it today. We rely on the internet for communication, work, play, research, marketing, and everything.

However, there are major corporations whose only goals seem to be to exploit human nature for profit. For services to deliver more relevant content and know us better, it comes at the expense of sharing some data which may or may not be personally identifiable. While this looks to be a win-win scenario for us to keep us happy and for the service to keep serving us relevant content, there are darker things beyond the privacy policy or toggle. The rise of surveillance capitalism has led to such data falling into the hands of data brokers or third-party marketers/advertisers who buy up the data to build a digital profile based on the breadcrumbs of data we leave behind. No matter how small, these data points tell a story behind your digital profile. This spans beyond what we give services directly. Every webpage you visit, an app you open, a post you interact with, a video you watch, and a search term can be collected and shared with third parties without your knowledge. Not only is it shared without your knowledge, but we have also lost control of our data. Data has become the new oil with how valuable it has become. We don't even know all the companies that have our data, and it is being used against us in a hostile manner. This data powers a large algorithm that feeds content, influences our decisions and controls what we believe. We no longer think freely; we have a piece of code that chooses what we believe. The lack of privacy regulations in several countries worldwide allows corporations and even governments to exploit us legally. Government organizations such as the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bought databases from these data brokers to bypass the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Our freedom of protection is being stripped away under "national security." It has paved the way for projects such as China's "social credit" system & rampant facial recognition/surveillance network and campaigns from the United Kingdom government against end-to-end encryption.

It's infuriating that every big industry seems to have its own wing on how to collect and market data, from major credit bureaus and banks to social media, telecommunications, education, insurance, medical, and public safety. We like to not think about who we give our data to and say that our lives are "not interesting" and that we have "nothing to hide," but in reality, your lives are just as interesting as a high-profile celebrity. Computers don't judge based on your social status. They may know you're boring, but they still use your interests and activity to profit off of without a second thought. I remember viewing a segment on the local news with a live poll on the debate of a police department's use of Clearview AI facial recognition software. A whopping 75% of viewers agreed of the use, that "it kept us all safer." What was not shown in the broadcast is that Clearview unethically scraped millions of social media profiles to be stored in its database without any consent from the user. By "keeping us all safer," do we mean turning computers against us by automating our already disastrous policing and criminal justice system, replacing human instinct with a robot that is the sole judge, jury, and executioner? All for-profit by the corporations that build them? By tapping into such loosely-regulated markets, we have lost control and autonomy over who we share our information with, and we have to trust them to make the "right" decisions. We should decide what's best for ourselves and work collectively to make a world a better place, without the need to throw it at a machine that is not as perfect as humans (who already aren't perfect!)

If that wasn't enough, we've also seen the rise of nation-state censorship to control public opinion. Following Russia's unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine, the government's communication body, Roskomnadzor, ordered Russian ISPs to block Facebook and Twitter to combat "fake news." This so-called "fake news" was decided by the Russian government and ensured that Russians had information that was pro-Russian or made by themselves. Following a military coup in Myanmar last year, the junta ordered a total internet blackout for months on end in an attempt to suppress human rights violations & free information entering and exiting the country. Government internet shutdowns have become almost routine in countries like Russia, China, Iran, India, Belarus, Egypt, Brazil, UAE, etc., restricting access to parts or all of the internet. Countries like China have a nationwide firewall (codename "Great Firewall") which restricts western news & social media sites to strengthen the Chinese market and the government's control over its citizens. In addition, in a place like North Korea (DPRK), almost all citizens don't even have access to the internet.

Everyone has the right to know who has their data, what data they have, and demand its deletion from every company that has it. But in the growing world of surveillance, a new company having your information is just a click away or a walk down a new street. We need passionate, devoted leaders and people to build tools against mass surveillance & the surveillance capitalism era. By building tools to fight against mass data collection & censorship, we provide those behind walls with a ladder to jump over it and shovels to dig under it. The fight for privacy & access to information is not going to solve itself by some big corporation saying they'll do something about it and can ultimately abuse our trust. It needs all of us as a collective unit to work for the betterment of online privacy and access via strong, democratic, funded, open-source projects and knowledge spreaders.

I am proud to be a part of a community working towards a brighter, more-private, and freer future, and I believe we can make technology better for all of us. I will commit my future up until my last breath on this planet giving people the right to privacy, control, and access online by developing tools beneficial to privacy & security, making blog posts like this one, guiding people on their privacy journey, and informing a broader audience on joining the fight. If we are forced underground, we will continue to be loud. We will not stop until we win this war against mass surveillance, and our names will live on as champions for civil liberties, freedom, and democracy.

For a better, stronger, more-private world,