Law in the Internet Society
-- DavidKellam

The Increasing Need for Young Privacy Advocates and the Campus Where They May Be Born

Academia has long considered itself a platform for change and revolutionary thought. However, some disastrous failure has resulted in the obviation of the most important conversation of our time. A critical discussion involving the current trajectory of internet privacy and data consumption has not been explored sufficiently on the campus setting in which it might best be had.

This is evident in my generation’s mainstream attitude towards the impending extinction of privacy and the internet activity that empowers it: sure, we are tracked and monitored; our online identity is auctioned to interests we will not identify with motives we cannot know. So what? I'm not doing anything wrong.

Unfortunately, this is about as robust a conversation on data privacy as one will find in a university hallway. This lethal acquiescence has taken place because the potential misuse of our personal information is not a topic with which my contemporaries are informed. However, some historical highlights of our internet, and our government’s attitude towards it, might make the smart-phone generation a bit less trusting of the current scheme.

Federal and Corporate Misuse

During the 90’s, several parties had different fantasies concerning the privacy of our online future, and the debate over encryption took its first form. Generally, privacy advocates argued for accessible encryption to offset the consequences of an inherently insecure structure, while others feared that an encrypted internet would provide too available a platform for organized criminals. Ultimately, it appeared, privacy advocates were successful, and a new standard was born on the U.S. network.

However, the United States implemented export controls on new encryption software to keep it from the international community, and, essentially, to fill other networks with substandard encryption to which the U.S. would have access. While many of these policies were reversed towards the end of Clinton’s presidency and the (alleged) end of the Pyrrhic Crypto Wars, international consumers are still subject to insecurity because protocols stemming from these regulations remain in the default settings of many online systems, and commonplace cybercriminals are now able to exploit these vulnerabilities.

Worse than cybercriminals, however, is the potential for corporate and federal misuse that a poorly encrypted internet and low regulatory hurdles has created. Unbeknownst to many of my peers, the NSA continues to undermine encryption standards through these formerly implemented backdoors, intrusion into VPNs, NSA roving bugs, etcetera. Furthermore, federally accepted channels of data merchandising have constructed economies of our most private information, and, generally, none of our browsing, purchasing behavior, or information gathering goes unmonitored by corporations like Facebook who compile tremendous datasets composed of heavily categorized individuals and sell it to the highest bidder. From this comprehensive matrix of information, the federal government and the corporations that control social media can know everything about us, from our personal curiosities and political leanings, to our closest friends and where we spend our time. So what? I’m not doing anything wrong.

A Change in Perspective

To each new-generation social media user that believes privacy is a non-issue because they aren’t doing anything wrong online, it must be made clear that ‘wrong’ is a shifting goalpost. If one doesn’t care about extensive online dossiers concerning their private life, they must at least care that both ‘wrongness’ and legality are historically unstable precepts subject to change once social hysteria or governmental authority decides that the goalpost must move. News gathering can and has fallen under such a shadow. Personal education, social mobilization and group participation are likewise subject to shifting moral and legal attitudes. Thus, millennials who believe that they are not doing anything illegal by visiting certain websites or participating in certain discussions might soon find that this online behavior may be used against them when the axioms of wrongness change. You aren’t doing anything wrong now, but what you do is recorded, and may be wrong enough in the future to warrant retroactive retaliation.

It seems, then, that the best solution is informing new-generation internet users. Awareness of the breadth of the privacy violations written into commonplace services must be made in the current generation of social media captives, but unless they can conceptualize potential consequences, they have no reason to back away from the online platforms that have been shaping their identity for a decade.

The Campus

One domain in which this knowledge can be spread is the campus; it is the current generation of students that will soon take the mantle of policy and that is the most affected by the consequences of failure. Students that are already privacy minded must inform their peers of the depth of surveillance that exists online, and work with administrators to form data privacy groups or to broaden preexisting technology groups to include education on the rudiments of data privacy.

There are undoubtedly a handful of individuals with knowledge and experience on data privacy studying at many university campuses. If emboldened by a group of likeminded individuals and a supportive administration, this group can make information available to their peers sufficient to attract other students to the cause. While many will inevitably choose Instagram over autonomy, some will not, and helping the latter individuals to reset and audit their digital footprint will, at most, contribute to a movement towards a more privacy minded regulatory environment and, at least, aid individuals in obtaining online anonymity even if their contemporaries choose not to follow suit.

After the atmospherics of the issue are more well-known on campus, it will not be hard to motivate those willing and informed to take personal steps towards reducing their presence on publicly sold datasets. Anyone able to see the consequences of their data contribution may take steps to reduce it. When they are equipped with the existing resources available to browse and communicate privately, they will have a freedom that they have never experienced, and a taste of this freedom may begin to snowball into a generational change in perspective towards privacy.


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r6 - 06 May 2018 - 18:22:27 - DavidKellam
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