Why we need to treat our data privacy seriously.
As the pandemic, U.S. election, and protests have dominated our newsfeeds, Tik Tok has found its way into our morning news.
Their vulnerability with the Chinese Communist government has long been a subject for data and privacy concerns. To keep suspicions at bay, they hired a USA CEO and kept their data away from China. This distanced themselves from the country but they couldn’t escape judgment.
While there are different positions on the political spectrum, the concerns are valid. If China, for any reason, wants access to that data, they can order Tik Tok by law to give it to them. Even if the data is in another country, Tik Tok’s future could be threatened by their native government.
Because of these concerns, many in congress have spoken against the company. As of today, it looks like they must cease to exist or get acquired by a government-approved company.
If the issue is that a government has access to our data, this exposes the contradiction of western democracies and their power.
Does it matter if it comes from a communist government or a democratic republic?
If a government has the ability to collect, analyze, and use our data without consent or a warrant, then this overreaching power goes against basic human rights.
“Ultimately, saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different from saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.” — Edward Snowden, Permanent Record
Should We Have a Right to Privacy?
Most of us will never read the Terms of Agreement for every app, device, and platform we use. These companies know it and they have grown confident. They can essentially do whatever they want with our data or sell it to the right bidder.
Many of the modern ideas we have of democracy come from John Locke, who’s philosophies influenced Thomas Jefferson when writing the Declaration of Independence. The famous phrase “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as a basic human right was influenced by Locke. The original phrase, however, had “property” instead of a pursuit of happiness. These origins describe our right to protect what we own, including modern data (even if a company claims it), as a natural right.
When Edward Snowden revealed that that the NSA was collecting massive amounts of data from all of us, for as long as possible, the world was horrified. While, technically, the US government couldn’t search your property without a warrant, they were collecting it in raw data in case they ever needed it.
They could access your data based on a short conversation with the wrong person, a suspicion, or whatever reason they wanted to conjure. They owned us. It’s almost as if they wired your home to access the recordings when they have a small reason to.
According to Snowden’s book, Permanent Record, Governments can know what you are searching, what books you are reading, what you purchased on your credit card, what you texted, and more. Our privacy no longer exists.
While there have been changes since many of these revelations, it doesn’t look like things are improving for the future. Amazon just hired Keith Alexander, the former NSA chief responsible for illegal mass surveillance, to join their Board of Directors. Do we want someone like this influencing how Amazon uses Alexa, one of the most intimate data-gathering tools possible?
Many of us might think this isn’t an issue if we don’t do anything illegal or wrong. But this goes beyond someone worried about shady practices. This is about a government or organization becoming so powerful that it can monitor a population in order to control and influence it.
This should concern all of us. The minute we lose our right to privacy, the more power we give to our governments.
There may be a time where they decide to censor us and use our information against us. As the descendent of refugees escaping governments like these, it is scary to think about how a regime can use your data to control you and subdue an entire people.
What should we do when our data is no longer ours?
We should continue to fight for our rights to keep our information private. We need to consider what we want to give up when we have a social media account. If we can stand together, we can develop protections to the things most precious to us — freedom and privacy.
While Tik Tok has sparked conversations about who could have access to our data, it shouldn’t be limited to China. Any government or organization that can freely collect your data and do whatever they want with it could be a threat to our society and democracies.