With Independence Day just before us and the PRISM leak close behind us, I thought it would be appropriate to talk a little about internet security. One might well recall the SOPA outcry of 2012 and wonder how we went from the public refusal to sensor to the private decision to survey. That is a good question to ask. If for no other reason, it is our responsibility to know our rights and speak up for the ones we want to keep. Perhaps the more pressing question is how you and I should handle our information in this digital world.
In order to understand how our online lives are impacted by 18th century words, we are going to need to know what those words actually are.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Fifty-three words; one paragraph; two-hundred years of protection. No, the amendment doesn't explicitly give certain rights to internet users, but there are a few implications that should be pretty clear.
The Right ...
The concept of right is an important one in our Constitution, yet it is often misused or completely abandoned. In one breath we demand our rights and in the next we defy them entirely. Now, that can be proper and good. I want to maintain the right to put cream in my coffee, but I will never avail myself of that right. I want a certain right to privacy, but I don't want to live like a hermit. I want the right to not have to give ANY information over to the government ... unless the government has a cool Facebook page.
Of People ...
I guess, that's really the point. Isn't it? The idea of internet rights comes down to me (as a person) deciding if I share my information rather than the government (or other organizations) deciding to gather it. However, this is where all of the tension exists as well. We agree to let the Google robots read our emails to show us more appropriate advertisements, but we are scandalized by the idea that the government would then take that exact same data and use it to "keep the country secure." (For the record, Google assures us that the NSA does no such thing.) The dichotomy between privacy and sharing, between freedom and security is somewhat daunting.
To Be Secure ...
So, how can we strike a balance between these two tensions? How can we be free and open while still having privacy and security? There is no simple answer to this question, but perhaps these four guidelines will be helpful.
- Live Clean
I know this is kind of missing the point, but there is a deeper truth to be gleaned here. If you don't want your boss, government, wife or browser history to know you are doing something, that might be a good indication to not do it!
- Be Responsible
As Ted Samson put it, people "have to accept some level of responsibility [with] information they choose to share through posting updates and images on social networking or sharing geolocation data on their mobile devices."
- Stay Informed
I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." So, stay focused on the issues. Don't get sidetracked by the profiles of the people making headlines and mistake that as being informed.
- Speak Up
Remember that your voice can and should be heard. The internet makes it shockingly easy to contact your representative and communicate your thoughts and opinions. So, be apart of history and speak up for your right to be open and private, secure and free.