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Digital rights and principles for the digital age

Courtesy: Brett Sayles

EU Member States, the European Parliament and the European Commission recently concluded negotiations on the EU’s values for the digital world, while the U.S. Department of State has released a joint statement on protecting human rights defenders online.

Meanwhile, a recent UN report warns that people’s right to privacy is coming under ever greater pressure from the use of modern networked digital technologies. These technologies’ features make formidable tools for surveillance, control and oppression. This makes it  essential that these technologies are reined in by effective regulation based on international human rights laws and standards.

“There is a clear point of tension at the heart of data regulation. In the name of protecting individuals’ private information, we are seeing instances of governments making ill-considered or snap decisions to introduce new regulatory measures,” says Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert at NordVPN. “They could have far-reaching consequences for the individuals they are intended to protect. Cybersecurity and privacy are mutually reinforcing rights. However, governments have presented a false dilemma between the two, forcing companies to choose one while in effect taking away customers’ rights related to the other.’’

The importance of end-to-end encryption

The same report – the latest on privacy in the digital age by the UN Human Rights Office – highlights that encryption is a key enabler of privacy and human rights in the digital space, yet it is being undermined. In fact, governments should avoid steps that could weaken encryption. Such steps include mandating so-called backdoors that give access to people’s encrypted data or employing systematic screening of people’s devices, a practice known as client-side scanning.

“Many governments argue that criminals use encryption to make digital evidence inaccessible to authorities and protect themselves from persecution. They suggest creating backdoors, which  allow authorities to bypass encryption when there’s a lawful reason to do so,” Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert at NordVPN, explains. “Unfortunately, once a vulnerability backdoor is established, a cybercriminal can discover it and use it to spy on unsuspecting targets and steal sensitive information.”

Our data and sensitive information has always been precious to businesses and to bad actors, but it has also become an integral part of national and global politics. Too much personal data in the hands of big technology represents a security threat to citizens and has revealed new opportunities for hackers and bad actors.

How to protect your digital rights

Below, Daniel Markuson lists a number of ways people can protect themselves online:

  • Use privacy browsers. Get an internet browser specifically tailored for people with online privacy in mind: no auto-syncing, no spell-check, no auto-fill and no plug-ins.
  • Install a tracker blocker. These stop your browser from collecting information about you and may also work as an ad blocker. Some tracker blockers offer other cybersecurity features like malware protection.
  • Use a VPN. By using a VPN, you will hide your real IP address and location from third parties, including your ISP, cyber criminals, network administrators and advertisers.
  • Ditch Google. Google tracks a lot of data about you. If you want to avoid this form of tracking, you’ll have to opt for other email providers and search engines.
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