Privacy is one of our basic freedoms that has been infringed more and more recently. Moreover, many have simply given it away freely in order to receive certain types of services from big corporates. In other cases people have been forcefully imposed laws and regulations that simply take it away by governments. Civil liberties are basic rights and freedoms granted to citizens of a country through national common or statute law. Through the centuries people around the world have fought to arrive at where we are now with the international laws and legislation protecting our freedoms. They include freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of religious worship. The freedoms to speak and believe in whatever you like while having the ability to keep this private, if you so wish, is a right that everybody has. The Magna Carta for example, drawn up in 1215, is usually cited as the first piece of legislation to guarantee certain liberties and rights in a world of medieval believes and daily life directed by religion. The Bill of Rights 1689 -“An Act declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject” limited the power of a single individual to benefit the masses with freedom of speech and free election. Reeling forward to the 21st century, United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights builds on top of the legislation for which people have fought over throughout the centuries. Article 12 protects your right to respect your private life, your family life, your home. You have the right to live your life privately without government interference. Article 19 states that everybody has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. In other words, a freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without a fear of retaliation, censorship or legal sanction. The term “freedom of expression” is sometimes used synonymously but includes any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used”. In the US, the Constitution’s “first amendment” guarantees US citizens the freedom to say what they want that being the ultimate seal to allowing their freedom to express themselves.
In recent times, governments and big corporate institutions seem to have started to infringe those simple liberties which have taken 100s of years to achieve and put down with ink on paper. For example, the Chinese government has a social points based system where every citizen is monitored, CCTV operates on the streets of every corner in the big cities while websites are being watched and certain websites completely prohibited. In the Middle East, journalists and human rights defenders from Bahrain to Morocco have their phones tapped and their emails read by security services while others simply vanish from the face of the Earth. Edward Snowden exposed the mass surveillance of foreign phone and internet users by the US government. The social networks we use everyday like Facebook censors and removes posts that are out of favor with particular governments or national agencies while google provides data including IP addresses, location data and records of communications to law enforcement agencies without legal permission to do so. In almost every country around the world either one of the above is happening to one extend or another. Both companies and governments publicly omit facts or state different national security reasons as a pretext on obtaining personal information about individuals. It is clear that this widespread surveillance is not just about gathering information on the citizenry. It’s also about suppressing our ideas and our thoughts, controlling our actions and our words.
It is clear that there is significant amount of legislation and rights that goes with each individual while on the other hand there is as much as infringement on those by different actors in countries around the world. This article is not meant to only highlight present issues, but also offer some solutions for people who want to protect their rights through the use of new technologies. In the last decades, there has been unprecedented developments of the encryption and cryptographic technologies fostered by the exponential increase of processing power and operational capacity of computers. Moreover, researchers have worked on developing new and more secure encryption methods while the whole blockchain industry was born about 10 years ago. On one hand, cryptocurrencies can provide the medium of value exchange between individuals unhindered by the rules and regulation of the current monetary systems while the blockchain technology and many of it’s use cases can offer secure and verified transfer of data and information. Bitcoin is the original first cryptocurrency that paves the way for many more to come down the road. It really captures the idea of pseudo-anonymous private value transfer and transactions between people in any side of the world that has internet. Other cryptocurrencies have come since and keep being created for different reasons and use cases. On the privacy side, Monero, Zcash, PIVX, GRIN & BEAM offer solutions with a nuanced differences in their design, working structure, governance, blockchain infrastructure, but ultimately meant to offer their users a secure and private transfer of value. Transacting currencies is only one aspect of the privacy and security universe. Protecting your internet access connection, email, browsing and messaging as well as the information downloaded and accessed from different points all adds to the puzzle. A great hub for privacy technology is Privacy Tools. There you can get access on everything from guides, operating systems, recommended VPNs, messaging and emailing apps. For example, using a VPN connection is a must as this is the first point of contact to yourself and the internet. Service like the one offered by Proton with it’s corresponding encrypted email services is a great starting point. Nowadays, there is even blockchain based VPN service called Orchid where you can pay with tokens protecting your identity and credit card details. In terms of messaging, there are many options out there which have a small bias or influence by different corporates or governmental institutions, but Signal maybe the most independent encrypted messaging service that is in the mainstream out there. Finally, browsing the internet is what can really get you in trouble or infringe on your privacy that’s why one should always be mindful on the software and search engine used as you never know what may happen with your browsing history and data in 10 years down the line. Firefox and Brave offer secure, fast and private browsing while Tor can get you access to the dark web. Using google products is a sticky topic as you never really know how this data is being saved, secured or who’s got insight on it. That’s why instead of googling you may wish to use a privacy search engine like duckduckgo. Privacy is the fundamental barrier that stands in the way of complete state control and domination. Without it, the social contract is broken, and individuals cannot recognize their democratic rights to participate, build, grow and think.