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October 01, 2017 Sunday 11:01:31 AM IST

Privacy Violations of Netizens

Cover Story

The issue of maintaining privacy has been a major problem for netizens of the world. With the growing number of services on social media, the problem has only compounded. Due to this, net content is not secure anymore and is floating all over cyberspace. So what actually does “privacy” mean to the common man, especially in the context of Internet technology?

 

People are aware of their private space when it comes to their daily life. But on the Internet, it’s a totally different story. People have private rooms, private lockers and their private space. This does not mean that they are into all sorts of illegal activities. It’s just that they want to keep some things to themselves. Let’s take a look at this aspect of privacy.

 


DO WE REALLY NEED PRIVACY?

 

We, human beings, think we hardly need privacy over the Internet. But just think of this scenario. You give your mobile phone to someone. What all personal details of you can he have? He would have access to your contacts, call history, transaction history, favourite food, gaming habits, photos, social media accounts, purchase history and so many other small, but valuable details.

 


These are the details you are giving away to all the other apps on your phone. You are allowing them access to all your personal details. Don’t you consider these data as important? Or is it fine for the apps to have them? This is where we need to think away from the technological perspective. People normally tend to think that data exchange is a trade-off (Data for Free Services). But it is a lot more than that.

 

SURVEILLANCE IN HISTORY

 


In today’s world, surveillance has been a default method to oppress, restrict and ban voices that need not be  heard. This is a threat to democracy, freedom of speech and our basic right to expression. When these surveillance technologies end up in the hands of the powers-that be, it would modify the expressions generated by a democratic society. This is where technology in the hands of people becomes a major must for a  progressive society. In the same way, now, people have a lot of information about you on the Internet and this information will be interpreted in the way the dominant classes want.

 

THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY

Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the Right to Privacy as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. What does this say? Privacy has been one of our basic rights. The judiciary realized it. Now as citizens, we should take certain measures to make this a meaningful decision. We need to question privacy violations and educate people.


 

Educating people about their rights and freedom will surely be a major setback for corporates and monopolies in this sector. Privacy has always been a global problem. Activists like Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Aaron Swartz, have been talking about it for a long time. They have even sacrificed their freedom for this mission on the Internet. It is up to us to take these issues seriously.

 

THE AADHAAR


 

Talking about privacy, what does the Aadhaar mean to the general public? What does it do? Is it a serious threat to privacy? Aadhaar has been viewed as one of the largest collections of biometric database constituting 1.25 billion in size. The government has control over individual citizens through their fingerprints, iris and personal data. The government has huge sets of database with this mass information. Think of the security perspective of such a database. What if this data is leaked? These measures would make privacy completely meaningless to each and every Indian citizen. The Aadhaar has been connected to mobile phones, bank accounts and welfare schemes by the government, which clearly states that it has the power to make a person completely meaningless in society by disabling him from all the processes through Aadhaar. This is a dangerous threat to the democratic fabric of society.

 

ROLE OF THE GOVERNMENT


 

Imagine having to live with surveillance cameras all around the city. What does it denote? People will not be able to move about freely, for every move of theirs will be watched. The government says this surveillance can reduce incidences of theft and robbery. But surely, there must be a better way to handle this scenario?

 

Poverty also leads to theft and robbery. Why do governments not address this social malady? Hence, the government is duty-bound to protect and maintain the privacy of its citizens, instead of citing flimsy reasons to pry into the lives of the common man.


 

Apart from this, privacy also has its own political and economical implications. If a particular corporate has control over the country’s financial behaviour, it will track users, preserve their data, and will ultimately have a say in the country’s economic and political future.

 

POWER TO THE PEOPLE


 

This current scenario does not mean we are a helpless lot. The individual citizen has his or her own role in preserving privacy. The basic thing to do is to educate people.

 

Educate people online: Netizens  need to educate people on issues like privacy, surveillance, technology and licence. This would create a drastic change in people’s behavior over the internet. Videos, tutorials, blogs and other platforms should teach people about all aspects of privacy. Discussions and debates are another source of information exchange.


 

Government’s role in preserving privacy: The government should stand as an example in preserving citizens’ privacy. It should take measures to add and modify the school syllabus to teach people about online behaviour. It should take action against those who violate the Right to Privacy. It should educate people, region-wise and school-wise. When people are educated, they will choose their society’s functionality and progress.

 

Decentralization: Decentralization is a process wherein the structure is distributed equally in the network. It is against the centralized structure of the Internet. It gives technology in the hands of people and more importantly, it gets back control from the corporates and destroys monopoly in people’s Internet. Engineering students and technology enthusiasts should learn to experiment with decentralization and try to implement it in daily life.


 

Free Software tools and alternatives: The proprietary tools which we use in our daily life have a control over us. This is where large corporate and monopolies hold control over us and manipulate us over their interests. Tools such as Diaspora, Matrix, Autistici, Riseup and others like them give freedom to users and take away control from the centralized structure. Mesh Network is also a viable alternative. To learn more about alternatives visit http://prism-break.org/

 

Learning Online: There are some sites which talk about decentralization like Privacy, Mesh, Peer-to-Peer, etc. Some sites like Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy International, Prism Break and Tor are good to start with.


 

ORGANIZATIONS IN INDIA

 

Many organizations in India organize campaigns, discussions, events and debates. Some of them


are:

·        Free Software Movement of India (fsmi.in)

·        Free Software Foundation Tamil Nadu (fsftn.org)

·        Free Software Movement Karnataka (fsmk.org)


·        Swecha (swecha.org)

 

Be a part of these organizations, learn, share and organize as a community to carry out all the steps that we need to protect our privacy.

 


People need to be educated and organized over these issues. Till then many other issues over the Internet will arise over the illiteracy of the people. This is when corporates take control over the people. Let’s take technology seriously.


Put technology in the hands of people and build an equivalent and more powerful alternative of the people, for the people and by the people.


Balaji Ravichandran

A Knowledge Commons activist, Free Software Foundation Tamil Nadu

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