Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Living with the Data Vultures

-- By NatayaRahmawati - 6 May 2022

We are now living in a world where mass surveillance and information tracking take place in almost every aspect of society. Tech companies as well as the government are garnering our data every day. Popular services like emails, google, smartphones, facebook, instagram, and many other apps have been perceived as a normal part of living. However, many people fail to recognize (or choose to ignore the fact) that in exchange to use their free services, we give up a great portion of our personal information and privacy. This phenomenon raises important questions, what is the harm behind this mass surveillance and why we should be worried about it?

What’s So Special About Our Data and Privacy

Discussing surveillance cannot be separated from the importance of privacy. The right to privacy is the right to feel secure in our own thoughts, to be free from observation or disturbance, the right not to have one’s personal matters disclosed or publicized. It is a fundamental right protected by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. This also means that the governments are prohibited from conducting “unreasonable" searches and seizures without a warrant or probable cause.

However, in 2013, Snowden revealed that the US government and other governments have been capturing and storing the metadata of their citizens. In other words, the governments are capable of accessing our private information, including personal communication, emails, locations, smartphones and internet activities, all without our consent. This extraordinary breadth of mass surveillance goes against the basic fundamental rights of privacy and there are more than strong reasons on why we should be worried about this.

Some parties will argue that surveillance is important for crime control and prevention, and many people think that as an ordinary people, they have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. This is an ill narrative. Each of us have our own identity and presence of mind, we have plenty to hide and plenty to fear. Our private information that those big techs and the governments exhaustively collect could be used for far less benevolent agendas, not merely about target ads or security purposes. On the contrary, it could be used against ourselves. They abuse our data to find out about our whole identity, to whom we interact, trace our behavior, understand the way we think, map our political preferences, the list goes on.

We are being spied on from every domain imaginable, regardless if we are a suspect criminal or innocent citizen. What is more concerning is that there is always a chance that we, or the people that we care about, fit into a certain unfavorable category. It might have something to do with our race, health condition, sexual preferences, educations, opinions or simply anything. All of this mass surveillance could be easily done without the individual being aware nor giving their consent, and this is far from acceptable.

Where to Put Our Concern

Governments today know more about their citizens than ever before. Intelligence agencies possess much more information on all of the population. Having the access to this magnitude of information is every tyrant could ever dreamed of. This kind of information allows governments the ability to subconsciously control how we perceive information and policies. It enables them to identify different behavior and therefore, surveillance can have a chilling effect on people. The knowledge, or even the perception that we are being watched over our shoulder affects the way we behave as a society. It drives people to conform to a certain standard, or in other words it manipulates our behavior and reduces our freedom of expression. When taken into a larger context, mass surveillance allows the government to identify opposing opinions, they could foresee protests and even pre-emptively arrest people who plan to take part.

If we do not fight to proclaim the autonomy of our privacy, it is just a matter of time until it translates into oppression and total control of society. We never know who will be in power next and the next one might not be as benign as their predecessor. That being said, it is important that this state power is being curtailed.

What We Can Do About It

All of these problems occur primarily as the consequences of internet companies accumulate and retain abundant personal data and allow it to be transmitted everywhere without adequate security. We need a more stringent legal framework that requires these companies to safeguard our privacy and security. The current way of data collection needs to stop. Companies should not save data longer than absolutely necessary. Encrypt what has to be saved. Internet services with a better security design will promote better protection for users, regardless of government surveillance authority.

The next step will be the legal fight to regain power over our privacy. There must be clear regulations that ensure we are being informed of when and how our data is collected, this is imperative. This way, mass surveillances without our consent could be minimized. In fact, surveillance must always be an exception, not the norm.

However, until such regimes come, self-regulation is the best bet that we have in hand. Fortunately, if we are willing to go the extra miles, it is possible to protect our private information in this data vultures era. Start practicing a more secure internet behavior by going incognito, get familiar with encrypted emails, choose products that are better for privacy, for example Signals. Always use VPN, clear cookies and flush your DNS, invest your time to learn how TOR and tails work, and of course, choose to refrain from social media. It is about time that we stand up for our privacy rights and be vigilant to restrict to whom we feed our personal information to.

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r4 - 06 May 2022 - 18:37:00 - NatayaRahmawati
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