How to maintain digital and mobile privacy in 2021?
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Edward Snowden “Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say." "When you say, 'I have nothing to hide,' you're saying, 'I don't care about this right’”.
Something to hide or just being private?
Let’s look in a bit more detail about what it is that’s actually being said by Edward Snowden.
Firstly, it needs to be understood that there is a difference between hiding something and being private. We all have aspects of our lives that we like to keep private. Real privacy allows you to control the aspects of your life which you are happy to share with others. It means, you choose what and when to share rather than being forced to share.
For example, if you decide to take a shower or a bath, would you want everyone to be able to watch you undress and wash? Chances are the answer is no, as you value your privacy, but you’re not actually hiding from anyone.
The same principle applies to a lot of what you do digitally. For another example, if you decide to take an intimate picture of yourself to send to your loved one, would you want everyone to be able to view it? Again, the answer is probably no, and again it’s down to digital and mobile privacy rather than hiding something.
You have a right to mobile privacy
If we apply the same logic to all your digital communication and personal data, it is clear that, although you may not be doing anything wrong, you should still be able to keep your privacy from everyone else, including governments and law enforcement agencies.
However, there are still those, in particular governments and law enforcement agencies, that continue to push to remove the end-to-end encryption of communications in order for them to be able to access people’s mobile communications. They state that this would only be required for the criminals using the system.
Your job requires mobile and digital privacy
However, once this type of access is obtained, where will the surveillance stop? Think of all the people who, by their very nature, are reliant on being able to communicate both legally and in privacy. These would include Investigative Journalists, who could be researching the behavior of government officials. Or protestors seeking to change unjust laws.
These are the very people that encryption protects for the greater good. If these groups can be monitored in this way, it makes it much easier to silence them. It is precisely for this reason that, in order for society to change for the better, some people need to move and rally against poorly designed laws. They can only do this with the ability to discuss their subjects amongst themselves in privacy.
How to maintain digital and mobile privacy
As you can see, privacy is more than just keeping a secret from others. It’s more than criminals conducting their business out of the view of the authorities. Digital privacy and security reach the very fabric of society and can help foster change for the greater good.
By denying this mobile and digital privacy, through the removal of end-to-end encrypted communication, places the power over the many into the hands of the few.
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SMS Text Messages – you need to think twice about your privacy
It is estimated that in just the UK a staggering 60 million mobile phone SMS texts are sent every day. Ultimately that equates to a lot of information and data being pinged around on an archaic messaging system with very limited security features.
The question around mobile privacy has raised its head again, this time it’s to do with the safety of SMS texting. It is all to do with end-to-end encryption.
So, what’s the real issue here?
The problem arises when text messages are sent securely from your phone to your network. The security for the first part of the text message’s journey is secure and keeps your messages private – from your phone to the network itself.
However, it is once your message reaches the network that it has the potential to be intercepted by hackers, who are then able to read and use the content to their own means. This is because SMS messages sent from smartphones are not secured by end-to-end encryption.
France, and more recently Germany, have called upon many of the technology giants to remove a hurdle that prevents them from using and storing data to help track people’s movements. This is a move that has been backed by the EU more generally. The EU has aligned its view with that of France and believes a more centralized approach to tracking and data storage, is the only way for it to be effective.
Naturally, the governments don’t believe this is an infringement on individuals’ privacy rights.
Apple’s Bluetooth technology prevents a track and traces app from continuously running background checks and stops any data being sent off the mobile device to be stored elsewhere.
There are obviously personal and mobile security and privacy issues that stem from storing vast amounts of data on a third-party server. Not least of which is the exceedingly tempting target the servers will pose for a determined hacker looking to make money from all that information.
Then there are the hackers themselves taking advantage of the security gap and using the same technology to steal as much personal information as they can, including images, texts, emails, or even your mobile banking details.
It is also worth noting that, there have been other contact tracing apps released recently in other parts of the world that have successfully managed to overcome this iOS issue, therefore casting further doubt over the real reasons the EU is pushing for this privacy feature to be removed.
As a way of defense, France and the EU have stated that the app will be purely optional and they will not enforce its universal use. They have also stated that, once the pandemic has been brought under control and the travel/contact restrictions have been removed, the app and its data will be dismantled.
As with all arguments, there are those that take the opposite view. In this case, there are those that believe an increase in more intrusive state surveillance would be an acceptable price to pay in the battle against the Coronavirus pandemic.
In a recent report published by a UK-based think tank, The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change argued that it was potentially the best option currently available to governments.
They argue that, given the potential three options of; a shattered economy, a health service completely unable to cope with a huge influx of patients, and the use of state surveillance technology to track-trace-contact potential Covid19 patients, the technology route is likely to be the best contender.
However, they do recommend trying to preserve the security and privacy of users as much as is possible and, in order to maintain trust between the users and the state, the apps should only be opt-in rather than a compulsory download.