Wikipedia defines the right to privacy as “The right to privacy is an element of various legal traditions to restrain governmental and private actions that threaten the privacy of individuals. Over 150 national constitutions mention the right to privacy.” This is a basic human right and should not be taken for granted.
The Edward Snowden case illuminated this issue. Global surveillance has been around longer and is more complex than we think. Under the guise of combatting terrorism, government agencies such as the NSA, CIA, R&AW, GCHQ and many others engage in mass global surveillance. Some will approve this sacrifice in the name of security, but what are the limits?
We are the ones to blame
“User confidence is crucial for digital economy. Customer as a product and unsafe privacy are not sustainable business models. Digital is sophisticated enough to combine Security, Convenience, and Personal Privacy.”
― Stephane Nappo
Digital surveillance is intrusive, but we are all to blame. By sharing our whole lives on social networks, we provide easy access to digital data to surveillance agencies. The majority of society rushed into the jaws of various social platforms, which act as data centers. These data centers enable the merciless collecting and selling private data to big companies. In 1999,
Former CEO of Sun Microsystems infamously declared that privacy was dead, urging the reporters who had asked him about the subject to “get over it”. That was before the launch of Facebook, Google Street View, and the iPhone.
The Internet was designed to connect people, and most emails, Internet chats, and web browsing are routed through multiple servers and the majority of users are actually aware that their online activities are conveyed to a third party. Social networks require tracking in order to function. Knowing this and the number of people that join social media networks every day, we could end this topic here and right now.
“Privacy is dead, and social media holds the smoking gun.” — Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable
Even small cookies can follow the user’s activity across the web, potentially recording the information entered into different web pages and building a profile on the user. It is no secret that special software can derive part of social security numbers only from one snapshot.
“Every ISP is being attacked, maliciously both from in the United States and outside of the United States, by those who want to invade people’s privacy. But more importantly they want to take control of computers, they want to hack them, they want to steal information.” — Darrell Issa, American Politician
“I don’t have anything to hide” “That’s the price of security” are commonly heard from those who fight privacy, or simply don’t care. We know that these are non-arguments. But, if you put curtains on your windows to protect your privacy, why don’t you act the same online?
Do We Have Laws to Protect Us?
In Europe, the GRPD (General Data Protection Regulation) was created in order to compensate for certain abuses in the system in an attempt to protect users.
Since May 2018, the regulations have imposed new constraints on companies and their subcontractors regarding the processing of personal data.
Thus, data must be visible (held in a registry), leakage problems must be prevented and detected, processing must be protected from the design stage. If the data is compromised, it is up to the data holder to react, the data must be editable, erasable, and moveable. Finally, the data holder must cooperate with the CNIL (National Commission on Informatics and Liberty).
Although this regulation overturns current methods, it has limitations. Especially because it is difficult for many companies to understand the regulations and to put in place the necessary tools to comply with them.
Then, in the event of data compromise, it is up to the data holder to judge the severity of the problem (i.e. hacking) and to notify the data owner. If the data holder believes that the data has not been sufficiently compromised, they do not need to notify the data owner.
Finally, even if the GRPD is catching up with the European Union’s legislative backwardness on practices resulting from rapid technological progress, it already seems outdated in some respects. Given current industry trends, it seems difficult to meet the supervisory needs of companies in the big data sector and artificial intelligence applications, many of which are based on the use of huge databases.
How does this work in countries (even inside Europe, and with the “protection” of GRPD) where certain information may be dangerous? For example, health data or bank data? In a totalitarian country, what about mass surveillance that can lead to arrests?
It is hard to imagine that there are places in this modern World where citizens have various restrictions on internet use that censor the users, and where privacy is an unknown proverb. In places like this, life and the future can depend on content created by the same governments that censor its people. We can’t put technologies in the hands of people and not communicate the risks or provide them with ways to protect themselves.
“Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.” — John Perry Barlow, cyberlibertarian, political activist and founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Is Blockchain the Answer?
Blockchain technology offers a solution. Some projects have privacy as a leitmotiv. By using different protocols (zero-knowledge proof, Zerocoin, Mimble Wimble…), they dedicate their projects to putting more privacy in the user’s hands. Many of these projects are open-source and driven by their community. User-driven communities protect the user because their data is safe and with community deciding they can be sure that decisions will be oriented on their needs.
So, we have a solution with blockchain, but what if a large corporation buys several big blockchain companies? What about centralized projects that are fooling the users? Facebook creating its own coin is a real danger. Libra will permit Facebook to have nearly all the data that can be related to one person. Although Facebook has made promises not to exploit this data; can you trust big companies that are already making money on your digital footprints?
These are a threat to the industry, they pretend to be blockchain projects but do not believe in the philosophy behind it.
Education is a Key Part of the Privacy Revolution
What we need is to be aware of the consequences of our actions, online or offline, and to be able to operate in an environment without trusted parties. The blockchain can allow this, but education is an important part of this revolution. If we evolve in a world without trusted parties, we need to trust ourselves, and to trust ourselves, we need knowledge.
Users need to be able to define what is a good project or not, which one is truly open-source, which ones have a talented team. We must arm ourselves against this new industry dotted with scams and bad intentions. We need to know when our privacy is compromised and when our safety is at stake. Fortunately, we already have the tools for that.
Robert Viglione, the co-founder of Horizen, has much to say about this subject:
Robert Viglione co-founded Horizen (formerly Zencash) with Rolf Versluis. I consider them true leaders in the blockchain industry in terms of philosophy. From the beginning, their leitmotif was to bring back power to user’s, educate them, and build a project driven by the community. I asked him 3 questions that I have raised in this article:
- Why do you think digital privacy should be guaranteed human right?
My belief is that people are born with a natural right to their own lives. What exactly this means in practice is always up for debate, but one incontrovertible part is that without strong privacy rights, other rights are all too easily destroyed.
2. How blockchain technology can bring privacy back in the user’s hand?
Blockchain is a way of distributing resources, participation, and other functions across a trustless network. It’s all about creating a rules-based system where anyone can be involved and their involvement take on whatever form they want, including being fully anonymous. By their very nature, blockchains are resistant to censorship and some public systems, like Horizen, go even further by using zero knowledge cryptography to enable full privacy.
3. Don’t you think that education is as important as putting the right tools in the user’s hand to protect themselves?
We’re creating a new world for many people with this technology and whenever anything is so new it requires tremendous education to explain the basics and why people ought to transition from legacy systems to this more open, privacy-preserving one.
Hope is Here!
Horizen and several other blockchain projects are dedicated to privacy and their communities. By decentralizing more and more, we rule out the possibility of being devoured by a multinational corporation or malicious company.
By educating and trusting our users, we are confident that decisions will be made for the common good. We created the Horizen Academy to enable everyone to learn about blockchain, privacy, and the Horizen project. The aim is to educate users to empower them to make their own choices and to put power and privacy back in their hands.