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The Social Side of the Privacy Debate

Lilly Birdsong By Lilly Birdsong Published on April 18, 2016

Everyone’s been talking about privacy since Apple’s fight against the FBI when they were ordered to create a backdoor into the iPhone.

You’ll find a lot of information on the Internet about the technical side of the debate - such as the fact that creating a back door for the government also creates security risks that hackers and other governments could take advantage of.  You’ll also hear a lot of pleas from law enforcement to help them find the bad guys and put them away. I don’t think anyone would argue with the idea that if someone has murdered people, that person should be held accountable for it.

There’s something no one’s talking about, though. No one is talking about the social side of privacy and why it’s so critically important to protect it.

When people argue in favour of the FBI, they are arguing in favour of “security.” But whose security?

Rather than looking at it from the point of view of law enforcement, let’s look at this from some other people’s point of view.

Women on the Internet

If you are a woman who has published articles or videos on the Internet, chances are someone has disagreed with your point of view at some point. Well, everyone’s bound to have someone who disagrees with you at some point. The difference? The types of threats that are directed towards women often include rape threats, death threats, and people sometimes even post women’s physical address online enabling people to act out these threats. 

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When I was out for dinner the other night, we had a debate about privacy. I like to have different identities that I use in different situations - even in real life, the types of things that I choose to talk about with my family is different from my friends and is different from what I might choose to talk about at work. It’s not because I’m a different person on the inside, it’s just that I don’t think it’s everyone’s business to know what I think about all things. I want to reveal what I choose to the people I choose to reveal it to. Then again, I might be a more private person than most people. The person I was debating with said that he’s always the same person to everyone, so he didn’t understand what the big deal was. He had nothing to hide.

Well, I think if you felt as though voicing your opinion would result in you possibly being raped or killed, then you’d have a different view of privacy. You might want to have more control over your online identity. One of the reasons I never use the “comment with Facebook” feature online is that I don’t want my thoughts to be connected to my real identity. If someone starts targeting you, it makes it infinitely harder to wipe the slate clean and start fresh.

John Oliver actually put it really well in this video:

Revenge Porn

When it comes to women, there's a very specific type of abuse that happens online - it's called "revenge porn."  When someone has intimate pictures of you, they may post them online and instigate a waterfall of "slut shaming."  So what happens when someone does this against your will?  You can reach out to Google and ask them to de-index the search results that result in your images popping up.  But when it comes down to the actual page where the images are posted, you need to copyright your own naked body in order to solicit the page to take the images down.

Most people are putting the onus on the victim by telling everyone "just don't let anyone take any pictures of you naked."  It seems to make sense as a general rule, but ignores the overall problem which is that in many places we can't prosecute people who do this since it isn't even a crime, but often results in the women committing suicide.  It also ignores the possibility that these pictures of you may be taken when you're unaware, either through a webcam hijack, or after you've been drugged and assaulted.  It's just plain shameful that we try to put the blame on the victim in these cases.

If there are pictures of you that you think are private, I would hope that they're properly encrypted and not available for anyone to access.

Political Activists

Let’s take a trip around the world to China. It’s well-known that if you speak out against the government there, you can risk getting thrown in jail - or worse, killed.  See this list of Chinese dissidents and the jail time they've had to serve.  In North Korea it’s even worse. People just disappear, and they don’t come back.

Now you might think, well, China’s a long way away - that has nothing to do with a debate that’s happening in the U.S. But first of all, think about the recent momentum of the Trump campaign - he wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and bar all Muslims from entering the country. The fact that his rhetoric has gained so much momentum is frightening. What do you think he would do if technology existed that could monitor or break into someone’s phone?

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Chinese Artist and Activist Ai Weiwei

On the other side, what about China itself. What would stop China from also being able to demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone for all phones sold in China? And what would happen there? That list of dissidents could grow a lot faster, putting people’s lives at risk. The only way to promote true freedom of speech worldwide is to preserve privacy.

Children and Teens

I think everyone would agree that the first thing we should do is to protect the children. They are innocent, at least until they get their hands on a device that’s connected to the Internet and next thing you know they are suddenly exposed to an online world full of abuse. Not only are children potential victims online, they are also potential predators. Some of the worst online harassment happens between teenagers, and the amount of young girls and boys that have committed suicide following internet abuse is only growing. 

Imagine the young teen hacker breaks into a girl’s phone, posts pictures of her online, and she then commits suicide as a result of not being able to escape the online abuse that follows.

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If you think all this is a little far-fetched, then be aware that teen hackers are everywhere.  Aside from the more popular ones, kids are often learning how to code in grade school now. We should be proud of our kids for being able to pick up these abstract concepts, but when they’re at an age when their body is being pumped full of hormones and their lives are going through immense change, they may lack the wisdom to use these concepts for the best merit. When someone decides to break into another person’s phone and post all their private conversations on the Internet, they might not even view that act as nefarious - it might just be a bit of “fun.” Problem is it’s anything but fun to the victim, and the perpetrator might not be mature enough to realize the ramifications of their actions.

Of course, we need to address this in schools as well - we need to encourage our children to be sensitive, sympathetic, and caring of others. But right now our society’s got a long way to go.

So how does this all link back to privacy? Well, I think that people should have the right to protect their own privacy - for their own security. It’s absolutely true that terrorists and criminals will exploit this privacy to commit crimes - but they’ll find a way to commit those crimes anyway, regardless of the privacy measures in place. They’ll flock to whatever platform provides best for their needs - and if none of them do, then they’ll create their own

When it comes to encryption itself, we cannot forget that if we create a back door for our government to get in, then we create a back door for everyone to get in. Including foreign governments. Including hackers. Including terrorists.

Including our own people, who want to abuse each other.

We should be increasing our security, not weakening it.

I am a Sci-Fi writer. I love drinking whiskey, hanging out with my 2 cats, and kickboxing. Check out Children of RIVA if you're interested in my work. Oh, and in my spare time I work ... Show More

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