Digital security and the Right to privacy (II)
“Think about the information you have shared online over the last 24 hours when you were writing an email, chatting on WhatsApp or uploading a selfie on Instagram. Would you feel comfortable if –your best friend, job colleague, parents, partner…- had all the information? ”, Is being asked to the students of Amnesty International online course entitled “Digital Security and Human Rights”.
Privacy is a fundamental right. As it is said in the Declaration of Human Rights, article 12 exposes that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” However, as the UN has pointed, “ensuring the protection and promotion of the right to privacy in the context of modern communications and information technology raises specific challenges” (the UN, “The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age”).
The right to privacy is being protected by governments, as is their responsibility to safeguard and achieve human rights, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, International Human Rights courts, international organizations –such as Privacy International or Amnesty international- and everybody, at the time that we are active subjects to defend our rights.
New threats: online privacy.
At present Internet is formulated in a way that more and more data of every individual is demanded – for instance, think in the personal information that is being requested while creating an Instagram account or to be submitted in a newsletter. Constantly people consent to give specific data without having a reflection of what is behind it or which consequences it could have.
When privacy is invaded, which is a human right violation intrinsically, other human rights become weak. The information is not safe when is online. For instance, this January (2019) almost 800 million email addresses were hacked (Fernández, 2019). A webpage called “Have I been pwned?” (https://haveibeenpwned.com) shows if any e-mail account has been prejudiced because of a data breach. However, it is difficult to know what kind of information the hackers have taken.
The most common security threats, according to Amnesty international training “Digital Security and Human Rights”, are malware and phishing. Firstly, malware can be defined as “malicious software” and it takes different forms: as a virus, spyware, a Trojan or a worm between others. It can steal information, copy data, unlock passwords or record from the webcam –also among other possibilities.
Secondly, there is phishing, which refers to these malevolent emails, which attach through messages or links using the electronic address. The term itself, phishing, is taken from a fishing metaphor: victims are baited. The proposal usually is to install among its malware or as well as steal passwords. Even though people think that both are used for criminal purposes nowadays some states use it for spying or discredit human rights defenders or activists.
How is information online? Data and metadata.
Definitely, there is a need to understand what is digital data. First of all, data itself can be interpreted as the information collected, analyzed and measured. Thus, digital data is the information being processed or stored in a computer, which is composed of binary digits –that means a combination of zeros and ones. These numbers are the language that computers, and electronic devices, use between them. Likewise, any interaction with a computerized gadget is generating digital data. Consequently, much more concrete is the concept “metadata” that refers to this specific context about data itself. For instance, when someone is taking a picture, let’s imagine someone taking a selfie; metadata explains when was it taken with the exact day and time, where is it was placed, the device used, among other details.
Encryption: a strategy to protect data.
According to Wikipedia encryption is encryption is “the process of encoding a message or information in such a way that only authorized parties can access it and those who are not authorized cannot”. In other words, it is a strategy to reinforce people’s safety in front of a possible attack –or to protect privacy itself. The goal of encryption is to make data and communication more secure.
However, Christopher Soghoian, a privacy researcher and activist from San Francisco (California) has pointed out a problem in the encryption system. In his TED speech entitled “Your smartphone is a civil rights issue,” he warns about the difference between Apple and Android -regarding encrypted data. While Apple is greatly secure, using encryption in a proper way, android is not using encrypt data at all. In other words, indicated by the activist, only rich people, who can afford an iPhone, can be protected from “the gaze of the government”. This makes flourish another debate: why is data privacy that important?.
Why Privacy Matters?
“Why privacy matters” is the title of a TED speech done by Glenn Greenwald –an American lawyer, journalist and known for being the author of numerous articles where he talks about the U.S and British global surveillance programs. The lawyer launches a reflection on all those who say that “only who are engaged in bad acts have a reason to want to hide and to care about their privacy”.
Greenwald highlights that, even though humans can be considered as social animals -and that’s why people voluntarily publish personal information online, “it is equally essential –and means to be free and fulfilled human being- to have a place that we can go and be free of the judging eyes of other people”. Furthermore, he adds that “people under surveillance are more conformist and compliant”.
Greenwald uses the example of the architectural design of panoptic –used in prisons-, created by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century and used by Foucault later on, which suggests the next: when people assume that they are being watched obedience and compliance is enforced. By way of explanation, mass surveillance is, according to Greenwald, more effective than brute force. And surveillance, Christopher Soghoian has said, “is a tool used by those in power against those who have no power”.
Currently, mostly everybody is taking part in an online community and somehow participates in making virtual spaces free from harm –or, by the contrary, have a negative impact. It is noteworthy to establish some habits, such as changing passwords frequently or read privacy policies. However, as can be seen in this article, online privacy is nowadays very challenging and it is a must to be careful with the data shared online.
Last but not least, is important to know that there are documents, inside the legal field, protecting everybody’s right to privacy. For instance, the Constitution of Jordan, in article 18, is saying that “All postal and telegraphic correspondence, telephonic communications, and the other communications means shall be regarded as secret and shall not be subject to censorship, viewing, suspension or confiscation except by a judicial order in accordance with the provisions of the law.” However, sometimes governments –or other security institutions, by way of example- do not respect this right. For that reason is important to be aware and claim it: “Privacy is a fundamental right, increasingly essential to freedom everywhere”.
To keep reading:
This article is written after taking the online course “Digital Security and Human Rights”, from
To keep watching:
“Privacy expert and TED Fellow Christopher Soghoian” from TED
“Why privacy matters” from TED
“Think your email’s private? Think again” from TED
“How quantum physics can make encryption stronger” from TED
Amnesty International (2019, January 28th). Digital Security and Human Rights online course.
Fernández, J. S. (2019, January 18). Casi 800 millones de cuentas de correo hackeadas ¿cómo saber si has sido hackeado? Retrieved February 14, 2019, from
(n.d.). The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from