The News Upset Me

The news upset me, as usual.

The News Upset Me

So this is the first "actual" post on this blog. I wasn't going to write anything today but reading the headlines gave me the creeps, as if somehow my RSS feed knows that I've become a paranoid privacy nut.

The first thing that made me stop my scrolling in disbelief (or, rather, utter dread) was this article on Gizmodo: These Companies Know When You're Pregnant—And They're Not Keeping It Secret . This is the kind of story that really pushes me toward the idea that privacy solutions ought to be completely technological instead of mostly or purely legal. If you go back ten years, people would have called you an alarmist if you said that abortion rights in the US are not guaranteed and people need to protect themselves in the event that abortions become illegal again. Now laws have changed and women in the US are in a situation where their own internet history can be used to try to prosecute them.

I think that living with the mindset that you should encrypt as much of your internet activity as you can is going to make your life way safer than banking on the legal system to take care of your privacy on your behalf. Having your privacy rely on legal frameworks that can change any time in the future is in my eyes extremely short-sighted. If we could rely purely on legislation to protect our privacy, why would we need to encrypt anything at all? I understand that there are other reasons to encrypt communication that doesn't have anything to do with the government coming after you: encryption protects you from criminals getting your information to misuse, it protects you from third parties learning too much about you, and so forth. This is the very idea behind proposed legislation in the EU that would force messaging services to decrypt communications if issued a warrant. These kinds of laws would allow you to communicate privately with anyone you wanted and the government could only snoop on you if a court gave them the permission to. I mean, fundamentally this comes down to how much you trust government, but not only the current government but what the government could become in the next 5 to 10 years.

I find it funny how when election time comes around, there is a lot of talk about how important it is to vote, as if the will of the people will always reflect values of tolerance and respect. Then we get things like the 2016 US election or the recent Hungarian election happening and a lot of people end of facing the hard truth that there are large chunks of voters who would actually want more restrictive social laws and crave for a more totalitarian power structure. Any find of lingering hope I had in the "grand narrative" of society always progressing to some better future totally evaporated in 2016. It's only a matter of time before we face living in a society that really, really wants us to just stop complaining, stop protesting and quietly work to keep the status quo in place.

This leads nicely to the second news article I ran into today that got me reflecting on the importance of encryption. Just take a look at what one Western government, Australia, is doing to the more active groups in the environmentalist movement. There's a lot of talk about wanting to do more for the environment from governments around the world but if anyone actually tries to do something to upset the current way society functions and highlights the structural problems we face, you will get crushed and made an example of. If the article is to be believed, members of the group can no longer even like each other's posts anymore. This is a reality we might end of facing one day here in Europe too.

After reading these news stories and reflecting on them, I've come to realize that what I'm fundamentally concerned with is where the power to protect your privacy resides. Is it something that is granted to you by society through laws or is it something that you can ensure for yourself? As I've mentioned, I'm firmly of the opinion that at I want to be as personally responsible for my own privacy as I reasonably can. I realize that not everyone feels that way and I respect that. What I want is to be the one who decides what can be known about me. I don't want that decision made by someone else on my behalf.