Growing up in the Ukraine in the post-Soviet era, I had close ties to prominent officials in government, many of those being law enforcement officials. The newly liberated Ukraine held great promise of becoming a true Western-style democracy. Without going into detail about specifics, suffice it to say I was disappointed by the actual outcome. From my privileged vantage point, I could see that the government took great liberties with the privacy of its citizens, and that this was largely enabled by emerging technologies. People that I know personally were compromised. When I came to the U.S, and saw the potential of a truly free society, I was inspired to support the cause of privacy from that point forward.
There are a only few things which are foundational to the quality of one’s life. We tend to lump these things together under the bundle of “human rights”, but that list of precious rights is a short one. The US constitution sums it up nicely as the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. I believe privacy is one of those things that protects all those other rights. And where privacy is lacking, all human rights are at risk. Recently, new advancements in technology [ large corporations, and governments ] have essentially put everyone’s privacy at risk, and yet the vast majority of people are actually unaware of this risk, unable to understand it, or indifferent to it. I think we ignore this risk at great peril to us all, so to me it is a very profound and important cause.
I think a successful future can be imagined simply if not achieved simply - a future where everyone has 100% control over what private information is revealed, to whom, and for what reason. Failure would probably come with a kind of cascade effect, where small intrusions in privacy happen over time and are either not noticed or normalized. [The consequence is that ] one day we find we are living in a surveillance state, and that its too late to change it.
I am supporting non profit organizations like the Electronic Freedom Frontier (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the International Association of Privacy Professionals(IAPP). These organizations are the primary watchdogs and protectors of online privacy. The EFF regularly publishes privacy report cards of the biggest tech giants. Further, the IAPP is the world’s largest and most comprehensive global information privacy community. The IAPP is an organization that seeks to inform and empower individuals and companies, primarily in the private sector, to protect data security and privacy.
I am also supporting strongly encrypted technologies and apps such as Signal Messenger, Criptext, and Proton Mail. These apps are easy to use and are at the forefront of protecting user privacy from online surveillance.
There are not many heroes in the sector yet, but I would mention two.
The first is Edward Snowden, who is a controversial character to say the least. But I don’t take a political stance on whistle-blowing because I think each case must be judged on it individual merits. But Snowden drew the world’s attention to an issue that had gone unnoticed and largely un-regulated. And for that reason, I think his revelations will be viewed kindly by history, and perhaps even be seen as a key inflection point in preventing disaster.
The second is Julian Assange. Julian has promoted information transparency as a mechanism for governmental oversight. His website Wikileaks has been extraordinary controversial but also useful in informing the American public about illegal activities conducted by its government.
The fear of the “cascade” failure I described above, a scenario where technology is employed for reasons of profit or political power, and that technology becomes more effective over time, whittling away our rights, and indeed our very ability to even know what is happening, much less to counteract its effects. We could discover that our privacy has essentially been completely stripped away and we have failed to notice. In that scenario, the sovereignty of the individual may be irretrievable. And based on how fast technology is racing ahead of policy, or indeed any coherent discussion of policy, this is a very plausible scenario, unfortunately.
Other than simply ensuring privacy for everyone (which is the obvious answer), I suppose I would make it part of the public sector debate and a matter of debate with respect to constitutional rights. All of the meaningful discussions seem to sit with either law enforcement or the private sector, neither of which are incentivized to execute policy or legislation for the greater good.
Companies are not designed to be good or evil. They are designed to generate shareholder value by generating a profit. So it is very difficult to cast any companies as good or evil. That said, companies like Apple have created a wall of separation between them and the private data of their customers, which is laudable. But of course, that wall can be removed at their pleasure. That is why we need stronger debate around legislation and regulation, which is the only (though obviously less than perfect) effective way to represent the interests of everyday people.
I would say Revolutionary. I am not going to write the code that protects privacy, but I want to elevate the discussion so people care about it. I want to get out in front and lead by inspiration. Hopefully my music will generate a sufficient fan base to give me the platform to make a difference.
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. — ( Benjamin Franklin )