With the advancements in the mass surveillance technology used by governments and corporations, maintaining individual privacy has never been more important. AXEL believes privacy is a fundamental human right that these powerful institutions need to acknowledge. Without a vigorous defense of this position, influential organizations will inevitably erode privacy protections and lead society down a dark, Orwellian path.

Privacy law – not a new thing

Citizens demanding basic privacy is not a new phenomenon. Formal privacy law goes all the way back to 1361 AD in England[1]. Nevermind modern accouterments like cellphones, back then niceties such as plumbing and an easily traversable road system weren’t fathomable. It was the time of King Edward the III, with England and France engaged in what was to be known as ‘The 100 Years War.’ In other words, a LONG time ago.

The Justices of the Peace Act outlawed peeping toms and eavesdroppers under the penalty of imprisonment. It was a way to stop the town weirdo from spying on neighbors from behind a cow or haycart.

Today these concerns seem quaint, as every computer, cellphone, smartwatch, digital assistant, or any other piece of internet-connected technology is the equivalent of an eavesdropping creep. On the plus side, medicine advanced past the practice of bloodletting as a cure-all. So, we’ve got that going for us.

A decree from the United Nations

Fast-forward over half a millennium to 1948. The newly-formed international coalition, the United Nations, released the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights[2]. This short document outlined various human rights for all people. Article 12 states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence, nor to attack upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to  the protection of the law against such interference or attack.”

While these UN guidelines are clear and concise, they lacked any true enforcement capabilities. Fantastic ideals in theory; often ignored in practice.

United States privacy law history

Unfortunately, The United States Constitution doesn’t explicitly guarantee privacy as a right. However, not all is lost. Throughout the years, there have been legal arguments that other liberties imply privacy rights. Examples include:

  • Stanford Law Review April 2010. A piece in the prestigious legal journal by Orin Kerr outlined an argument that sought to apply the Fourth Amendment to internet privacy[3]. The focus is on police-related intrusions, specifically dealing with warrant requirements for digital surveillance.
  • Griswold v. Connecticut. This 1965 case set the precedent that the Constitution grants privacy rights against government intrusion implicitly from other liberties established in the Bill of Rights[4]. While the case pertained to marital relations, the ruling set a precedent for the more general concept of implicit rights.

The current state of privacy

Two-thirds of countries have privacy regulations on the books[5]. So, everything’s all good, right? Time for privacy advocates to pack it up and celebrate their victory! No, things are not all rainbows and sunshine in this space. In fact, the situation is pretty bad.

Government privacy intrusions

The U.S. government spying on its citizens is nothing new. The practice dates back at least 70 years. Over this time, many groups (political activists, civil rights leaders, union participants, the far-Left, the far-Right, you name it) became surveillance targets of federal agencies like the FBI, CIA, and NSA. However, the devastating 9/11 attacks combined with advancing digital technology created a perfect storm for privacy intrusion at a scale never before seen.

The details of which were outlined by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013[6]. Here are a few significant revelations of the leaks:

  • The NSA collected millions of peoples’ cellphone metadata (i.e., when calls are made/to whom) and location information[7]. A federal appeals court finally ruled this tactic illegal in 2020[8].
  • The NSA can easily break internet standard encryption methods to view private emails, financial transactions, and other personal data[9].
  • The NSA implemented a program code-named PRISM where the Big Tech companies would mine user data and turn it over to the agency upon request[10].

These only scratch the surface of the Snowden leaks. The story received enormous press coverage over the years, putting pressure on the federal agencies for more transparency. It is naive to think organizations like the NSA stopped using these tactics, though. After all, the courts didn’t ban illegal phone metadata collection until seven years after initial disclosure, after multiple other scandals[11].

Corporate intrusions

Of course, the government doesn’t have a monopoly on invading peoples’ privacy. Corporations are big players in the game, too (although, as seen in the PRISM program, the two entities can work together.)

Big Tech has a notorious reputation in this regard. Companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon collect so much personal data that their algorithms probably know people better than they know themselves.

The most known scandal involved Cambridge Analytica, a Big Data firm that bought user data from Facebook and used it to serve targeted political ads, allegedly resulting in a shift toward Donald Trump’s election[12].

Regardless of that hypothesis’s validity, data mining and selling are an everyday occurrence in Big Tech’s world. All one has to do is read the privacy policies or terms of service agreements the companies provide to get a glimpse at the breadth of knowledge they have about individuals. Easier said than done since those policies are thousands of words of legalese, but decipher them, and it becomes quite creepy.

Tougher legislation

Data privacy and protection are now mainstream topics. As such, some governments are enacting stronger legislation. The Gold Standard of these laws is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union. It is the most comprehensive data privacy law to date.

California took the main framework of the GDPR and passed a similar law called the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), which will take a few years to implement fully. While these are the best laws currently in effect, they still have loopholes that will undoubtedly lead to exploitation. Do they go far enough to protect everyone’s personal information? Only time will tell.

Be proactive

The GDPR and CPRA are much needed, but people should take matters into their own hands as well. Stop relying on “free” software from the megacorporations and search for privacy-based alternatives.

AXEL Go is the perfect solution for anyone looking for a private, secure file-sharing and storage platform. It has blockchain implementation, runs on the un-censorable InterPlanetary File System, and utilizes military-spec AES 256-bit encryption to ensure your files aren’t compromised. Sign up for a free Basic account and receive 2GB of online storage and enough network fuel for hundreds of typical shares. AXEL truly believes privacy is an inalienable human right. That’s why AXEL Go has industry-leading privacy features that will only get better. Download it today.

 

 

 

[1] English Parliament, “Justices of the Peace Act 1361”, legislation.gov.uk, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/aep/Edw3/34/1

[2] The United Nations, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, un.org, 1948, https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/#:~:text=Article%2012.,against%20such%20interference%20or%20attacks

[3] Kerr, Orin S. “Applying the Fourth Amendment to the Internet: A General Approach.” Stanford Law Review 62, no. 4 (2010): 1005-049. Accessed February 24, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40649623

[4] “Griswold v. Connecticut.” Oyez. Accessed February 24, 2021. https://www.oyez.org/cases/1964/496

[5] “Data Protection and Privacy Legislation Worldwide”, UNCTAD, Feb. 4, 2020, https://unctad.org/page/data-protection-and-privacy-legislation-worldwide

[6] Glen Greenwald, “Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations”, The Guardian, June 9, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance

[7] Barton Gellman, Ashkan Soltani, “NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show”, The Washington Post, Dec. 4, 2013, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-tracking-cellphone-locations-worldwide-snowden-documents-show/2013/12/04/5492873a-5cf2-11e3-bc56-c6ca94801fac_story.html

[8] Josh Gerstein, “Court rules NSA phone snooping illegal -after 7-year delay”, Politico, Sept. 2, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/02/court-rules-nsa-phone-snooping-illegal-407727

[9] Joseph Menn, “New Snowden documents say NSA can break common Internet encryption”, Reuters, Sept. 5, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/net-us-usa-security-snowden-encryption/new-snowden-documents-say-nsa-can-break-common-internet-encryption-idUSBRE98413720130905

[10] Barton Gellman, Laura Poitras, “U.S., British intelligence mining data from nin U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program”, The Washington Post, June 7, 2013, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/us-intelligence-mining-data-from-nine-us-internet-companies-in-broad-secret-program/2013/06/06/3a0c0da8-cebf-11e2-8845-d970ccb04497_story.html

[11] Zack Whittaker, “NSA improperly collected Americans’ phone records for a second time, documents reveal”, Tech Crunch, June 26, 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/26/nsa-improper-phone-records-collection/

[12] Dan Patterson, “Facebook data privacy scandal: A cheat sheet”, Tech Republic, July 30, 2020, https://www.techrepublic.com/article/facebook-data-privacy-scandal-a-cheat-sheet/