Fun with basic human rights

               I’ve just read an article that made me facepalm so hard my nose is bruised. Apparently somebody (as in one of the founders of Wikr) thinks that an encrypted internet is or should be a basic human right. Of course, I couldn’t contain myself. I was just about to throw my computer in the trash when something else caught my eye – I’ve been reading that article wrong. I’ve read it again, then again, then again. He’s right, you know! I said in my best Morgan Freeman voice.. Then again, I’ve changed my mind, again. We don’t have rights when it comes to internet privacy, we have none of that. You know why? Because we don’t want to control it.

               There’s a small thing I’d add to this particular discussion, which would change how we view things. First of all, human rights are universal – they’re a set of rules we’ve agreed to uphold, well, most of us anyway. We’re avoiding and punishing countries who break them, well, most of them anyway. Yet nobody has the decency to ask why exactly is internet encryption so important when there’s illegal (or even legal) phone tapping, media censorship, secret police to chase people, and so on. The biggest human rights violators restrict communications because it’s the logical thing to do when you’re opressing people, therefore internet is the first to go – how many of those countries actually have internet access? How many of those countries use phones? How many of those countries use state-imposed censorship? Exactly. Very few of the opressed actually have internet access and most of those who do are from the “priviledged” class. So who actually benefits from encryption there? Yeah. And if dissidents are now allowed to use the internet, if we give their governments no way of tracking them, how long do you think their internet access will last? I have my money on 30 minutes, or whatever else time it takes a few hundred people to cut internet cables and rig up a sat phone jamming device. Whoups…

               The thing is, a right is something a civilized country can’t take away from you – if they’re able to do it then your “right” isn’t a right, it’s a priviledge. Then comes the issue of privacy and all that – dudes, really? How old is the internet anyway? You think in 20 years it’ll resemble what we have now? So why all the sudden spike in demands for a “free” and “unrestricted” internet? You think privacy has meaning if we define just a tiny portion of it? The problem with demanding an encrypted internet is something of a red herring, it makes people believe they’re safe when they’re not. Besides, we still have basic human rights violations in civilized countries, we still have laws to allow “martial law”, so there’s no guarantee that making new “human rights” actually works.

               Strong encryption used by default is a step in the right direction but ultimately it’s just one step. It makes our governments a target of opportunity in the eyes of the gullible. Internet is but one of the means we use. Then again, why is nobody demanding the end of browser cookies? Why are companies allowed to use them? Why is phone voice traffic not encrypted? Why can’t we demand laws to prevent abuse, and define that as any software or hardware or even social engineering that either side-steps or downright tricks people into giving explicit consent to actions that can be used to hurt people? Require the end of the fine print, require things to be obvious – which brings us exactly where we’re vulnerable – the human mind. How many of you read contracts before signing? How many of you read the EULA, TOS or licensing terms? Exactly. Why would you allow a phone app to read your texts, contacts, and so on? Yeah. It’s not possible.

               Making waves and demanding encryption by default changes nothing long term – because we don’t want to think for ourselves. We don’t want to be held responsible for our actions, we don’t want to evaluate the choices we make because there’s a chance we’d be wrong so we package it under “we aren’t experts” and bump it up the chain of command. You could encrypt everything and I’ll guarantee you there’s going to be people who click “yes” on a spyware toolbar even if it’s obvious and they’ll still blame Microsoft or Apple for not providing enough security. People still use pirated software from untrusted sources and still complain about viruses and spyware. We’re idiots. All americans yell about the NSA spying and demand laws against it yet nobody stops to think that those laws only apply within the USA borders. Go a little farther, to Canada or Mexico – and you’re a valid target. Shocking, isn’t it?

               I agree with parts of the message – the internet will have to be redesigned, strong encryption by default and no back-doors are steps in the right direction. I don’t agree it should be a right, though. That’ll just shift the blame from consumers to the government, it will absolve average individuals of any and all responsibility. They’ll make even more mistakes and bad choices because the government is the one who has to pick up the pieces. Anybody think that governments give 100% performance? Huh? I mean, they have done things perfectly in the past, right? But we forget something else.

               Basic privacy isn’t such a big problem for governments. They can make laws which allow them to target you for monitoring. What’s scarier than governments spying on you is private organisations spying on you. Facebook, Google, newspapers, retailers, you name it. They’ve got your consent to monitor you – I’ll bet you don’t even know there’s ways to monitor people using “incognito mode” on browsers or things like that. And most don’t even use that. People don’t clear browsing history, cookies, don’t turn off javascript, and that’s scary if you understand that’s the simplest, most basic way to track your online behavior. There’s things so advanced not even the top security proffesionals understand. Why aren’t we protesting that? Why are we using things we know actually track and record our online behavior? Why aren’t we demanding laws to make them stop recording?

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