Guest article: Digitalisation

The powerlessness of users

‘Privacy is a human right that needs defending now more than ever in our digital age’, writes Constanze Kurz member of Chaos Computer Club.

Constanze Kurz is a computer scientist, author  and activist.

How secure are the photos and messages on your mobile phone? Which apps are spying on you? Which security issues have been addressed, and which haven’t? These have become everyday questions that we tend to push to the back of our minds. After all, who likes to live with the idea that someone is looking over their shoulder?

The crisis of confidence began a few years ago and has gradually deepened ever since. It has two sides: firstly, hardly anyone now believes in effective data protection by means of law. On the internet, you are essentially surrounded by professional peeping Toms. And since Edward Snowden, everyone knows about the mass state surveillance that – far from being curbed – is actually being expanded. Secondly, people know that computer security cannot be trusted and there is nothing they can do about it.

Selling security problems

Digitalisation could be a chance to address this. Instead, networks are descending into battlefields of the future, full of state hackers from all different nations. There are dozens of stories in circulation about inadequate system security, data leaks and the abundance of ‘big data’ – at the expense of companies and normal users. The victims include parliaments, companies, heads of government and political campaigners, proving that network and computer spies know no bounds. 

Ultimately, the crisis of confidence in IT is collateral damage from the economic incentives created by the political and economic espionage of international intelligence services. Their troops of paid hackers besiege networks, financing an entire industry that sells security problems instead of fixing them. This is compounded by technology companies that generate income through clicks and whose job it is to build clear profiles of people based on their data usage.

Data companies should ensure greater transparency

These incentives prevent security and data protection from receiving the attention they deserve. We are already heavily dependent on the functionalities of this world and on mechanisms that protect our most personal data. What’s more, we have known for some time that this dependency will only grow.

But what can we do – simply keep clicking? There are, of course, technological alternatives. We can use free software and ensure that our communications are properly encrypted. But, at the same time, it would be advisable to seek a political solution that really addresses the issue and provides other incentives. Companies with poor track records on data security should be held to account, and data companies should be legally obliged to ensure greater transparency. 

We have to look at institutions such as the UN

When a substantial majority of users have been calling for more data protection and less surveillance for some time, it is also necessary to look to international political institutions such as the United Nations. The German Government would do well to stand up for more rights against surveillance in the Human Rights Council. Privacy is a fundamental human right that must be defended across borders, especially in the digital age and against the backdrop of international data companies. 

With the German constitutional right to informational self-determination and the constitutional right to probity and confidentiality in information technology systems, the German Federal Constitutional Court has established far-sighted requirements for the digital future. The German Government should actively promote the implementation of these standards within the context of the United Nations.

Constanze Kurz is a computer scientist, author and activist. She is a voluntary spokesperson for Chaos Computer Club, a European association of hackers. She has received several awards for her work supporting democracy and civil rights.

published in akzente 1/18

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