Today, 11th February 2014, is ‘The Day We Fight Back” – a day of campaigning against mass surveillance. It’s a day where campaigners are trying to raise awareness of the issue – and begin fighting against it. The big question is how can we fight back – what can we actually do. It often seems as though privacy is dead, and that there’s nothing we can do about it. I don’t think so – there are lots of things we can do, lots of things we must do. Here are just ten….
1 Support The Day We Fight Back
One of the most important things in the whole fight is to raise awareness – and to take advantage of opportunities to spread the message that surveillance is a big issue. Days like The Day We Fight Back help to do that. Check out the website here. Tweet about it. Blog about it. Talk about it with your friends and colleagues. Make it something that people notice.
2 Lobby your politicians – or unseat them!
Let the politicians know that you care about this – because, ultimately, they are supposed to be your representatives. It may not feel as though they listen to you much – but if enough people tell them the same thing, if enough people bother them, then they may finally get up off their backsides and do something. And if they don’t, use your vote against them. Politicians make a difference here – or rather they could, if they could be bothered. Most of them don’t understand what’s going on – try to educate them! Help them to understand, and don’t let them get away with bland, meaningless reassurances.
3 Don’t let the corporations off the hook!
The Snowden revelations were shocking, revealing a degree of governmental surveillance that surprised many people, and made a lot of people angry with their governments – but we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking this is just about governments, or just about specific agencies like the NSA and GCHQ. The malaise is far deeper than that – and corporations are in it right up to their necks. In many ways corporate surveillance is worse than governmental surveillance – it can have real impact on people, messing with their credit ratings and insurance premiums, affecting their job prospects, the prices they pay for things and more.
The NSA and GCHQ to a great extent piggyback on the surveillance that the corporates do, utilise the tools that the corporates create, mine the data that the corporates hold – if the corporates weren’t doing it, the agencies couldn’t tap into it. What’s more, corporations actively lobby to undermine privacy law, obfuscate over their privacy policies and do a lot more to undermine the whole concept of privacy. We shouldn’t accept that – let alone allow themselves to portray themselves as the good guys in this story. They’re not. Right now, they’re the henchmen and sidekicks of the NSA and GCHQ – if they want our support, they need to start supporting us.
4 Don’t just demand transparency – demand less surveillance!
There’s a lot of talk of transparency, particularly in relation to governmental requests for data from the likes go Google, Facebook, Twitter etc. Transparency is great – but it’s not nearly enough. We shouldn’t let ourselves be fobbed off with talk of transparency – we need less surveillance. We need to demand that surveillance is cut back – not just that there is better accountability and transparency. Accountability often ends up in farces like the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s hearing with the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – no real scrutiny at all, just a bit of lip service and a lot of back-slapping. It’s not enough. Not nearly enough.
5 Join or support civil society
Civil society groups all over the world are key players in this – and they need your support. Here in the UK, the Open Rights Group, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch have been in the forefront of the campaigns against surveillance. In the US the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been crucial. In the Netherlands Bits of Freedom have done wonders. These, however, are not groups with the scale or resources of the governments and corporations that are behind the surveillance – so they need every bit of support they can get.
6 Challenge the media!
The mainstream media, for the most part, have not played the part that they could in the fight against mass surveillance. The Guardian has been an honourable exception – and their role in making sure that the Snowden story has seen the light of day has been, for me, one of the most important pieces of journalism for many years – but generally the whole issue has been the subject of far less attention than it should have had. That’s sadly common – because reporting of almost all technology matters is pretty disappointing. We need to challenge that – and shame the media into doing a better job. When they misreport stories about surveillance they should be challenged – using the social media, for example. And, perhaps even more importantly, when they report on technology without seeing the privacy aspects we should challenge that too. One key example right now is the subject of ‘Smart Meters’ – they have deep problems in relation to privacy, but when you see a report in much of the media it only talks of the advantages, not the risks. That’s not good enough.
7 Educate yourself
Part of the reason that surveillance has grown, almost without our noticing, is that far too many of us – and I’m certainly one of them – have not kept ourselves up to date. This year is supposed to be the ‘Year of Code’ – and though that campaign is pretty farcical it does highlight the fact that most of us don’t really know how the tech we use works. If we don’t know how it works, it’ll be much harder for us to protect ourselves. I’m making a commitment right now that I’m going to learn cryptography – and that I’m going to use it.
8 Use and support privacy friendly tech
That brings the next point. There are a lot of privacy-friendly tools out there and we should use them. Search with duckduckgo or startpage rather than Google. Use Ghostery or Abine’s DoNotTrackMe to monitor or block those who are tracking you – remembering that commercial trackers can be hijacked by the authorities. These are just a few of the tools available – and there are more coming all the time – but they need to be used in order to succeed. They need support if they are to grow.
9 Keep your eye on the news
There are more stories about surveillance and other invasions of privacy appearing all the time – keep your eye on the news for them, and let other people know about them. It’s hard to keep up, but don’t give up. Don’t expect to know everything, but if we don’t keep up with the news we aren’t going to be in a position to fight. Information is power – which is a great deal of what surveillance is about. We need to be informed in order to fight back
10 Make sure the fightback isn’t just for a day
This is the most important thing of all. Campaigns for one day are pretty meaningless – and the authorities will generally let them ride, possibly with a few little comments but almost no action. Political pronouncement and political action needs long-term campaigning. Shifts in attitudes don’t happen in a day – so we need to keep this campaign going…. and expect it to be a long, attritional fight. It won’t be easy – but it’s worth it.