Privacy and Security in the Digital Age

On September 23, the Roosevelt Institute held its second meeting of the year, “Privacy and Security in the Digital Age.” With another strong attendance, the lively Equal Justice Center discussion commenced with the recent celebrity photo leak as its linchpin. A number of members spoke about the world of digital sexism on the deep web and referenced anarchic message-board site 4Chan. With the nude leak allegedly stemming from privacy breaches in Apple’s iCloud, our group discussed what it means to save personal information onto someone else’s property (especially when it feels like an extension of our personal computers). Many in the room agreed that individuals take a risk when uploading anything to a cloud, but that a cloud seems as though it would have more protection than uploading onto the Internet. Here, we can make a careful distinction between the Internet and cloud. Web hosting is the business of providing server space; your content and applications are uploaded into an Internet server which is then shared with other customers who also use the web host. Cloud computing, however, is data storage that simply uses the Internet as the communication medium to deliver its services.

The group discussed the pros and cons of both. Some echoed the belief that businesses using cloud computing need to better protect user data from hackers. For web hosting, a number of people thought we would never get to a point where the Internet is safe. One reason comes from the question – do the things we post online belong to us or someone else? Most encouraged simpler Terms and Conditions to properly consent/be aware of how their data is collected, shared and, in some cases, sold. In the wake of data breaches and big tech companies like Google, Yahoo, & Facebook making billions from data mining, some asked if we’ll ever be the only owners of our data. Should we be able to sell information ourselves and reap the profits personally?

The conversation naturally led to the National Security Agency’s once-secret program of collecting information. Several attendees referenced this as a double-edged sword: the government is meant to protect us with cyber security, yet it still gathers our information. In 2012 alone, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter handed over 70+% of their user data at the request of the U.S. government. This raised the question of whether online privacy/security was a fundamental right. The probe, which obviously holds much gravity, was never answered. A number of people thought that laws will just never be able to keep up with the fast-paced and ever-changing ways of the Internet; others believed in policy to nab hackers, better protect customer data, and restrict the government from accessing private information. For when we take a look at the following statistics, Internet security is clearly of significant importance to our increasingly tech-addled world:

  • 68% of internet users believe current laws are not good enough in protecting people’s privacy online and 24% believe current laws provide reasonable protections.
  • 86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints—ranging from clearing cookies to encrypting their email, from avoiding using their name to using virtual networks that mask their internet protocol (IP) address. 55% of internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government.

Thank you to Allie O’Keefe (Healthcare Center Leader) for helping moderate. A huge shout out to those who attended the meeting and engaged in this critical discussion!

Nikita Singareddy, Equal Justice Center Leader.