Op-Eds

Why your privacy rights matter

Last month Heartbleed became a major issue not only for media outlets, but Internet users as well. Major sites like Facebook, Youtube, Google, Instagram and Tumblr were at risk as a result of the security flaw.

An April 30 poll by Pew Research Center found 39 percent of internet users “took steps to protect online accounts and information” as a result of Heartbleed. Interestingly, the study found the higher a person’s education, the more likely they were to change their password or bolster their security.

For any person unsure about this or do not feel they know an adequate amount on this subject, they may be confused as to what all of this information means.

First, we have to understand the definition of privacy. Merriam-Webster defines it as the “freedom from unauthorized intrusion.”

Privacy has major implications for how we conduct our life as it protects our emails, our bank accounts and even our very identity. Queens College students value this as the popularity of the Facebook group QC Secrets shows the importance of privacy. Moreover, NYPD surveillance programs against Muslims show the consequence of losing privacy when fear dominates.

But it does not lie only with our computers and laptops. The choice to buy products also relates to the issue of privacy.

Target, the third largest retail chain, is just one company out of many that can tell many things about its customers, including pregnancy. Last December, more than 70 million Target customers who used their credit or debit cards for purchases had their personal information stolen by hackers.

Target is not the victim in this case as they knew of a massive breach in late November, but decided not to follow-up with the breach.

It provides a lesson in how protecting your identity is not to rely on the most untrustworthy. Companies like Target only have the incentive of producing profit, not ensuring customer service beyond their purchase.

I am not saying you should disconnect yourself from the world, but you should reconsider how you use your identity online and offline.  Your information is not only valuable, but profitable as well. Senator Jay Rockefeller IV, a Democrat from West Virginia, stated on Dec. 18, 2013 data brokers—companies that collect your information to sell to stores like Target—made billions.

“In 2012, the data broker industry generated 150 billion in revenue. That’s twice the size of the entire intelligence budget of the United States—all generated by the effort to detail and sell information about our private lives,” Rockefeller said.

In fact, as journalist Yasha Levine pointed out in his piece “Surveillance Valley,” data brokers were born out of the mentality of failed telemarketers with their profit incentive. I strongly recommend the piece for anyone interested in their privacy, but Levine has a powerful summary on this industry.

“These operations pulled in information from any source they could get their hands on — voter registration, credit card transactions, product warranty information, donations to political campaigns and non-profits, court records — storing it in master databases and then analyzing it in all sorts of ways that could be useful to direct-mailing and telemarketing outfits. It wasn’t long before data brokers realized that this information could be used beyond telemarketing, and quickly evolved into a global for-profit intelligence business that serves every conceivable data and intelligence need,” Levine said.

What can we do? The solution is simple: we must fight back.

Instead of Google, use DuckDuckGo. Instead of Chrome or Firefox, use WhiteHat Aviator. Use HTTPS Everywhere to encrypt your sites. Moreover, beyond online activism, we should challenge both our government for their intrusive surveillance with the NSA and tech companies that put potential money-making plans first. This requires pressure on them both financially and physically with demonstrations.

Ultimately, it comes down to protect your identity. If you send me your name, age and gender, then I can look up your entire life by paying a few companies. This is what happens when information is treated as a privilege, when it is a right.

Brandon Jordan

Brandon is a senior majoring in Political Science and Economics with a minor in Business And Liberal Arts. He covers labor and activism at CUNY. He also likes to cook, bake, run and make puns, sometimes not in that order. You can follow him on Twitter @BrandonJ_R and email him at brandon[at]theknightnews.com.

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