We are engaged in an Information War for control over our most private and intimate details. On one side are the data extractors – the tech giants, advertisers, data brokers and other entities that see our personal information as a commodity to be collected, profiled, packaged and sold. Their aim is to vacuum up every byte of data about our online habits, location history, relationships, interests and more to feed the insatiable maw of the surveillance economy.
The technocratic push to erode encryption and privacy is palpable in recent governmental actions across the globe. The UK’s Online Safety Bill, initially advocating for mandated content scanning on encrypted messaging platforms, witnessed a subtle shift owing to strong opposition, yet leaves room for potential erosion of encryption standards if ‘appropriate technology’ emerges. The US sees a persistent effort by the FBI to legislate against public key encryption, underscoring a technocratic inclination to control digital privacy for purported criminal investigation efficacy. Australia’s stance, unaltered by tech explanations, alongside the EU’s draft law aiming to combat online child abuse, reflects a growing technocratic endeavor to penetrate encryption protocols. The surveillance accusations against Russia and Azerbaijan, and Spain’s push for encryption restrictions in the EU, further exemplify the technocratic drive, veering away from preserving individual privacy and encryption against authoritative oversight.
For them, our digital lives are an open book from which they can continuously read, analyze and profit. Through deceptive terms of service agreements and lobbying, they seek to normalize ever more intrusive forms of surveillance capitalism and weaken our laws to protect civil liberties online. Their goal is total information awareness – to know us better than we know ourselves and have unfettered access to monitor, aggregate and sell the minutiae of our daily digital footprints.
But there are those of us who believe our personal information belongs to us alone, not to be captured and traded without our consent. We understand that our data, when pieced together, paints an extremely detailed portrait of our lives, thoughts and associations that many would rather keep private or share selectively on their own terms. We reject the notion that privacy must be relinquished in exchange for using modern technologies and services.
So for us, defending privacy is not about hiding illicit activities but exercising autonomy, ownership and free will in an era when digital surveillance has become big business. Like guerrilla fighters, we employ countermeasures like encryption, anonymity networks and strategic deception to evade mass data collection, cloud our movements online and retain ownership over our identities. While the data extractors have money and lobbying power on their side, we have motivation, technical know-how and the strength of fighting for self-determination.
When we securely encrypt our digital communications and store our sensitive data in encrypted formats, we are doing nothing different than locking the front door of our home. In both cases, we are exercising our natural right to privacy and protecting ourselves from unwanted intrusions. Just as we do not want strangers wandering freely throughout our house, rummaging through our personal belongings, we also do not want governments or other untrusted third parties surveillance our private online activities and data caches. Encryption allows us to privately transact, associate and express ourselves in the digital realm without worrying about others spying on us or stealing our personal information. It creates a protected space online that respects civil liberties, much like the home provides a private physical space for all individuals.
This is an asymmetric war for control of the narratives and profiles being created about us from beyond the subjective experiences we share directly with others. Will our digital lives be open books for others to profit from without consent? Or can we wrest back power and retain authority over the most sensitive domains of how we express ourselves and who we choose to be through technology? The outcome will determine how privacy, autonomy and transparency are balanced for generations to come. This is an Information War for our digital self-sovereignty and civil liberties facing powerful forces that see us as commodities instead of individuals. Ours is a battle that must be fought through both technical countermeasures and political change.