By Erin Herro, Volunteer Fellow at AIUSA’s Security With Human Rights Program
Today Amnesty International launched #UnfollowMe – a campaign demanding an end to mass surveillance. And we released the results of a global poll of more than 13,000 people across every continent.
What’d we find? More than 70% of respondents worldwide are strongly opposed to the U.S. government monitoring their internet use. And in the United States, less than a quarter of U.S. citizens approve of their government spying on them.
Now is a defining moment for the future of human rights online. The right to privacy is being systematically violated by governments that are increasingly employing sophisticated new mass surveillance technologies to spy on people’s private communications.
We know you have questions about why it matters – here are our answers.
1. I am not doing anything wrong, so why should I care?
Would you care if the government installed voice recorders and cameras in your home, recorded every conversation you have with a friend over a coffee, or followed you wherever you go? Those actions are the physical-world equivalent of online mass surveillance.
Isn’t the better question: I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should they care? If our privacy is taken away without a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, then the assumption is that everyone is potentially guilty until proven innocent.
In the wrong hands, private data can be used to target journalists, persecute activists, and crack down on free speech. Oppressive governments will use surveillance to control opposition. If you don’t think this can happen where you live, remember that all it takes is a change of government.
2. Corporations already know everything about me, so what’s the difference?
There’s a big difference: providing your data to corporations is voluntary and optional. You disclose information about yourself when you sign up for a social network, email account, or with a telecom company. The difference is: you decided to do that, you are aware that you’re doing it, and you can cancel your account.
Unlike that voluntary collection, only 20% of Americans approve of the U.S. government intercepting internet and mobile use of U.S. citizens.
3. Isn’t this a necessary sacrifice to stop terrorism?
There is no evidence that mass surveillance helps to prevent terrorism. Mass surveillance actually increases the risk that intelligence and law enforcement agencies will miss real, credible threats as they are distracted by false positives. Intelligence comes out of mass surveillance programs like a firehose – and you can’t get a sip from a fire hose.
Governments already had more than adequate means for legitimate law enforcement and intelligence gathering purpose. The fact is they are gathering information that they couldn’t have dreamed of a decade ago and they will always tell us they need more.
4. It’s just metadata, not content, so who cares?
If metadata was not a useful source of information about people, would it be collected?
Analyzing metadata–where you go and who you talk to–provides an efficient way to gain a lot of information amount about people’s lives.
To make this intrusion into our daily lives more palpable, Snowden says, “The people looking at this data are looking for criminals.” “You could be the most innocent person in the world, but if somebody programmed to see patterns of criminality looks at your data, they’re not going to find you – they’re going to find a criminal.”
5. How can I protect myself from surveillance online?
There are many practical things you can do. For example, Electronic Frontier Foundation has very useful tips and tools for safer online communications as well as a handy scorecard for messaging apps. Also, check out security-in-a-box and guides from Access.
But we must make sure that there are strong legal protections against mass surveillance.