They Fight Surveillance — And You Can Too

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fpg-ifs-1a_0Call it “pri­va­cy nihilism.” Whether you’re read­ing about the lat­est secu­ri­ty breach­es across the Net, or the jaw-drop­ping details of the lat­est NSA leak, or you’re explain­ing the impor­tance of cryp­to to your blank-faced fam­i­ly, or strug­gling to stop your own gov­ern­men­t’s plans on burn­ing your right to pri­va­cy, it’s some­times easy to just throw up your hands in despair and give it all up.

What can any­one real­is­ti­cal­ly do when online eaves­drop­ping is increas­ing­ly per­va­sive, and gov­ern­ments and com­pa­nies seem deter­mined to keep it that way? What can any­one do, alone, to change the down­ward spi­ral of secu­ri­ty and pri­va­cy online? It does­n’t help when so many peo­ple seem to shrug at the risks and con­se­quences of an omni­scient state or car­tel, no mat­ter how many times you have explained your fears.

EFF is launch­ing two projects that we hope will help you fight that pri­va­cy nihilism: against the skep­ti­cism of your friends and col­leagues, and even your own waver­ing sense that you can do something.

In Counter-Sur­veil­lance Suc­cess Sto­ries, we’ve col­lect­ed exam­ples of indi­vid­u­als and small groups who have cho­sen to bat­tle unlaw­ful spy­ing in their own countries—and have won.

fpg-ifs-1bGer­man Indy­Media co-founder Anne Roth found that she was the wife of a sus­pect in an anti-ter­ror­ism case. The evi­dence was laugh­ably flim­sy and the case was dropped, but by doc­u­ment­ing the expe­ri­ence of being under sur­veil­lance on her blog, she mobi­lized oppo­si­tion to Ger­many’s mis­treat­ment of sus­pects. In Ire­land, Dig­i­tal Rights Ire­land, a small group of vol­un­teer activists, spent eight years on an appar­ent­ly quixot­ic quest to com­plete­ly over­turn the EU Data Reten­tion Direc­tive, which ordered ISPs and mobile phone com­pa­nies across Europe into hoard­ers of ter­abytes of data on their own cus­tomers. In Zim­bab­we, a group fight­ing the cre­ation of an iden­ti­ty data­base of all SIM card users in the coun­try used inter­na­tion­al atten­tion and care­ful advo­ca­cy to annul the law. In Brus­sels, activists from across Europe bat­tled US gov­ern­ment influ­ence and high­ly-paid cor­po­rate lob­by­ists to expand and improve the Euro­pean Union’s data pro­tec­tion laws.

Even when suc­cess­ful, such metic­u­lous and demand­ing activism can be slow and lone­ly work. What if you don’t see a local group that fits your beliefs, and don’t have resources or the know-how to start your own insti­tu­tion? Every action that chal­lenges unlaw­ful sur­veil­lance has an effect: and because it’s a glob­al prob­lem, acts any­where in the world make a difference.

On our new I Fight Sur­veil­lance site, we’re show­cas­ing indi­vid­u­als from around the world who are tak­ing a stand. Some are tech­nol­o­gists, build­ing the secure tools that pro­tect oth­ers. Oth­ers are fight­ing sur­veil­lance by using those pri­va­cy-pro­tect­ing tools, or teach­ing oth­ers how to use them. Oth­ers pub­li­cize the effects sur­veil­lance have in their own com­mu­ni­ties; com­mu­ni­ties who might not have the pow­er or influ­ence to tell the world on their own.

fpg-ifs-1cThe faces and sto­ries of these two sites aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly the most famous advo­cates for pri­va­cy, nor are they the most noto­ri­ous vic­tims of its abuse. They’re cer­tain­ly not the only ones fight­ing against sur­veil­lance, and we’ll be adding more images and suc­cess sto­ries to our col­lec­tion over the next few months.

But we hope that even this small sam­ple shows that every­one can do some­thing to fight unnec­es­sary and dis­pro­por­tion­ate dig­i­tal spy­ing. Whistle­blow­ers, coders and big name politi­cians are all vital but every­one can and must take part for it to suc­ceed. And that by work­ing indi­vid­u­al­ly and togeth­er, as tech­nol­o­gists and advo­cates and cit­i­zens and activists, we can—and will—build a world with­out surveillance.

I Fight Sur­veil­lance press release avail­able here.