A call to awareness: empowering our civil rights on the internet

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Raul Gonzalez

Privacy on Internet

 

Throughout history, somewhere in the middle of an epic battle for power in cyberspace, we have understood the power of the internet as a split one on two sides: on the one side is the traditional power(think of it like an organizational power, government, and corporations), and on the other side is the distributed power(journalists, students, hackers, criminals, grassroots movements, normal people, etc); initially, the internet gave power to the distributed one; it provided coordination, efficiency in communication, and power to be informed, making that sector to be unbeatable, because censorship was impossible, anonymity was easy, and even police had no clues about cyber-crime. The internet was fundamentally international along time ago, and helped to go against any organizational structure that affect civil rights. Masses used to empower freedom, and it was spread throughout the world. It was inevitable and an utopian vision.

But suddenly, changes came dramatically into marketing, mass media, entertainment, political organizing, etc. Now, traditional power apparently is starting to win, and starting big. My theory is that this happened thanks to these two aspects.

First, the rise of cloud computing means we no longer have control of our data; the usage of our devices with iOS, Windows, Android, or any other one, is giving through our emails, photos, calendar, messages, and documents our full information to big companies like Apple or Microsoft, and they are becoming more powerful, by storing that data, and using it however they want.

On the other hand, the government power is also increasing on the Internet. There’s more surveillance, censorship and propaganda than never before. Totalitarian governments are embracing the Internet as a means for control of what users can and can’t do on the Internet, and this will be worse as the technology gets better. Evil will increase as the technology be easier to use, and we’ll see it in the future(actually, we’re seeing it now). Even, in many countries are pushing cyber-war as a reason for mass controlling. And despite this traditional-corporate sector can be slower and dumber when using its own power, they still have a lot of it, and are growing at an amazing rate.

On both, the corporate, and the government side, traditional power in the web is getting huge, and in many cases, the interests are aligning. Now, surveillance is the business model in the internet, and this gives to governments the access to our data, so security and police departments (who probably have grown up reading Agatha Christie) can act according to law and helped from this.

The truth, and the good news, is that this distributed power can make the use of the technologies faster and not hindered by bureaucracy. This sector can make any kind of technology be adapted to the world in just a few years, unlike big companies and public sectors. Sadly, despite this power can be used more efficiently, it’s now a small one and always has been, and it can only gets stronger as the technical knowledge start to spread out, so people can start using (and be interested in) the technology we already have for privacy purposes, and protect their own civil rights, which is something is not happening now. So, this is a everybody else’s task, but nobody does it, and this is because leveraging internet power requires technical expertise, and most users don’t have the sufficient ability to stay ahead institutional power, although the technology is there. That’s the big problem. This is why cyber crime is happening, and whistle-blowers can do so much damage, and organizations like Anonymous are still viable forces, and it’s why social movements thrive on Internet despite police power gets better.

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So, what happened? What is the truth? How in those early internet years did we get the future so controlled? What kind of power will dominate in the coming decades?

 

People shouldn’t be afraid of being close to technology, and use it for improving their lives, specially now that we have the opportunity to contribute not only with hacking and good practices solutions to these problems, but also with policies, social movements, and providing a good environment that can be prepared from a political point of view, so acting can be easier, with no technological skills needed; it’s our duty to embrace it. This will be an environment where not only the technology, data, maths and tooling can contribute to protect the people’s voice on the Internet, but also, all those laws governing the rule of law, and making us to be a group of human beings that uses all what is surrounding us to go beyond. It’s time people make their own laws on the internet, where surveillance are killing the freedom of netizens. The first step is being concerned and informed about this.

In my few years in the environment, we haven’t had a better moment to start than now. There’s no other timing for doing and fighting for the right things.

This is the moment when people around the world, concerned about the people’s rights in the web, are starting to create a better and noisy internet. This is not a call for revolution, but it is for to be aware about something priceless we have, and how to protect it, in a pacific and smart way. Internet is probably the sector where the next World War can start, and we better be prepared for that.

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So, how can we stop this slow but powerful growth in the traditional sector? Should we?

In this little war between the short and the quick, we need an stalemate, and i have two recommendations to get it:

  • In the short term, what we need is transparency, and accountability: The more we know what an institution is doing, the more we can trust. Unfortunately, market dynamics will not force to corporations to be transparent, and that’s why we need to embrace that in the best way we can.

Also, transparency helps us to trust on distributed power. Most of this kind of power is  really good for the world, and transparency is how we differentiate positive social groups, from criminal organizations.

On the other hand, accountability it’s a long understood mechanism for checking power. It will make legislators understand technologies, will empower press to be excited of this themes and start covering them, and it will be a watchdog group that analyze and report on what power is doing. This has to be the base of a society excited and interested on not only new information technologies, but also on their own civil rights this area needs to protect. This two aspects will give us the confidence to trust on institutional power and ensure lacked in our interest.

  • In a longer term,  we need to work to reduce those power differences. The more we can balance power among various groups, the more stable society we’ll have. And the key to all this, is the access to information. Data has become into real power on the internet, and as we look to reducing power imbalances, we have to look at it. This will be basically data privacy for individuals, mandatory rules for corporations, and open government laws. Only in this way, we’ll survive to the future.

 

Internet is becoming into a font of spying, wars, violation of civil rights and a government control tool. Now, it’s easier to NSA spy everyone that it is for anyone to maintain privacy, and this will be worst if we don’t act. To promote the real internet policies, so people can really make the most with it, we need to be aware of privacy, intellectual property, and freedom of expression online policies. If you go into the web, you’ll find communities concerned about this, and disposed to help you out, and make you to be interested in something is really, really important, but that unfortunately just a few people know the impact of not knowing this can trigger.

 

Today’s internet is a really fortuitous accident. It’s been a combination of an initial lack of course commercial interests, of a government benign neglect, awesome military requirements for survivability resilience, and a bunch of computers engineers building open systems that work simply, and easily.

We’re at the beginning and some critical debate about the future of the internet: law enforcement, surveillance corporate, data collection, cyberwar, information consumerism, and so on. This is not gonna be an easy period as we try to work this out. Corporations have turned the internet into an enormous revenue generator, and they’re not going to back down. Historically, no shift in power has been easy, and political technological issues are becoming more complicated.

But we all have the duty to tackle this problem. I don’t know what’s the result gonna be, but i hope that when generations from now are conforming the new society, and look back on these nearly decades on the internet, they’re not going to be disappointed. This only gonna happen if each one of us engages, makes this a priority and participate in the debate. We need to decide on the proper balance between institutional-distributed power and how to build tools that amplify what is good in each, and suppress what is bad.

So please, read, ask, collaborate, and meet people. Be interested. Be revel. Be informed. Make groups and start protecting what is yours. This the best way to change big. Make the change now, so you can be free in the future.

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Twitter: @rauladrianga

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