A Wake-Up Call To Fight Government Surveillance

A Wake-Up Call To Fight Government Surveillance

Look around any crowded place nowadays and it’s quite clear that many of us have literally become prisoners of our own devices: smartphones, tablets, laptops — anything and everything with an Internet connection. Our lifestyles practically require us to always be on, and connected to everyone else.

That means at any point in the day, and at any point in the world, individuals freely exchange massive amounts of personal information among each other: names, email addresses, phone numbers, photos, bank account and credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, insurance details and so on.

Looking at that list, it’s clear why some are calling data the oil of the digital world — data has effectively become its own currency, something we trade to either share updates about our lives or make a purchase.

Yet, valuable as this information is, and much like physical currency, when it’s exchanged, governments now want to play a central role in monitoring, storing and processing it. That may not have been part of the deal at the outset of the Internet, but 15 years into the 21st century, it’s clear that more and more citizens are not only exchanging privacy for vague promises of security, but are doing so willingly.

That kind of oversight comes at a cost, though, as the feeling of always being watched forces a gradual change in behavior. We act differently if we’re always being watched, always typing or sharing under the assumption that someone within our government is peering in from over our shoulder — and this forced change in behavior amounts to a gradual disintegration of our online freedoms.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Data Protection In A Post-Safe Harbor World

The European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) ruling to invalidate the Safe Harbor agreement was a huge step forward for privacy advocates, both in the U.S. and the E.U. For too long, American intelligence agencies like the NSA had been able to co-opt the data transfer deal to spy on the personal information of European citizens.

But with the ECJ’s overturning of that agreement — and with it, the NSA’s means of breathing down the necks of E.U. end users — American companies will now have to find alternatives for facilitating intercontinental data transfers, alternatives that put data privacy and security front and center.

Data has effectively become its own currency.

We’re already starting to see those alternatives bear fruit. Microsoft, whom the U.S. government has hounded to relinquish the emails of a Hotmail user stored on a Microsoft server in Ireland, recently announced that it was building a pair of new data centers in Germany, which will be managed and operated by an independent German “data trustee.”

That third-party group will be the one responsible for storing and processing E.U. customer data, ensuring that it never leaves Germany — and that, even if prompted by the U.S. government, Microsoft would be unable to access that user data unless permitted by the trustee.

While it’s a meager step forward, and a much bigger paradigm shift is likely waiting for us come January, Microsoft’s move is a significant signal to both the U.S. government and the E.U. public that European data privacy is not something to be infringed on so easily just to make spies’ lives easier.

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