Privacy is about choice. To have the freedom to act without fear of reprisal, should you so choose. It does not imply that all things require privacy, or that secrecy is always the best alternative. Private citizens should have the choice, and that choice begins with knowing the options.
A (Partial) Solution
I will be distributing information on how to defend your right to privacy. Anonymous information exchange, strong encryption, and other means of staying below the radar. My focus will be on digital privacy. Meatspace is an entirely different bag of snakes, and one I will not make more than a passing attempt at addressing. I will make some recommendations with regards to building your personal privacy toolbox, favouring open source software, if only because it affords the transparency required to trust it with something as vital as personal freedom.
The current attempts to control media coverage in Iran now highlight the need for increased awareness of privacy. With major news entities such as the BBC having reduced access (if any) to the events on the ground, much of what we know comes from those involve in the events themselves. But in a country where controls on information flow are well-established, this puts the people sharing this information at risk. If they are unable to get information about what is happening out, the only remaining source will be state-controlled media. And with the eyes of the world on them, I am confident that they will sculpt the information to present an idealized account of events.
Without strong privacy measures, an uncomfortable choice between personal safety and the free flow of information exists.
Paul Jones outlines some myths about privacy that are unfortunately all too common.
Only Those with Something to Hide Need Privacy.
A dangerous thought process. Who defines what needs hiding? Common definitions include things that would get the person seeking privacy in some form of trouble if connected to it.
A problem exists when we base definitions on laws. When the lawmakers are corrupt, and information control furthers oppression, things become much less black-and-white.
Privacy Impedes the Free Flow of Information
Far from it! Only without fear of reprisal can information be disseminated freely. Take the violence between the pro-government Basij and the protestors in Iran over the past week. Those distributing pictures, videos, and personal accounts of the events do so at significant risk to themselves. Some have paid a high price to share that information with the media.
Technology Always Invades Privacy
Technology is one of the driving forces in ensuring privacy. While there are technologies that exist to impede privacy (for instance, we can thank Nokia and friends for aiding the Iranian government in controlling cellular communication in the region), there exists a counterpart to most invasive applications of technology.
We can overcome traffic shaping with methods such as embedding one data stream in another or wrapping data in a layer of encryption. We can fight unacceptable activities such as monitoring private email communications with strong encryption. Censorship of “unapproved” information falls to proxies or alternative distribution methods.
Privacy Costs Too Much
Enough Privacy Protection is Already in Place
While it is true that measures exist to offer some assurance of privacy, the point is moot if information on how to use them is not widespread. My intention in writing this is to put that information into your hands, and give you the choice.
Knowledge and awareness are two things rightly feared by any would-be oppressors. An empowered, impassioned community will not go quietly.
Privacy is Already Lost, So Get Over It
Privacy is lost the moment we stop caring, and stop acting. If there’s one thing an oppressive regime would like more than a passive people ignorant of their ability to resist, it’s a people who have already accepted defeat as either inevitable or already complete.
“In war as in life, it is often necessary when some cherished scheme has failed, to take up the best alternative open, and if so, it is folly not to work for it with all your might.”
– Winston Churchill
The state of affairs in some regions is dismal, yes. Governments deploy measures to deny citizens their right to privacy, and those who speak out suffer for it. Yet even under such circumstances, the opportunity to reclaim freedom exists. Concepts such as CipherSaber exist for exactly this sort of situation.
What Can Be Done?
In the same thread Edward Wesolowski expresses concern over how privacy may “fall into the are of ‘things I can’t control’.
Pick up the feed, and I’ll show you how wrong he is.