• Privacy Not Privatization

last modified May 22, 2019 by strypey

Privacy Not Privatization

This campaign seeks to clear the fog of confusion that surrounds two similar sounding but totally separate things; privacy and privatization. All around us, here in New Zealand, we see public assets and community spaces, being either sold outright, or operated as if they have been. Even the grounds of the national house of representatives are treated legally as the private property of the Speaker of the House. This has been happening since the 1980s, when these "structural adjustment" practices were proudly introduced to the public using the propaganda term "privatization", implying they were motivated by reducing the power of the state and increasing the freedom of private citizens. However, over the same time period, our personal privacy - our right to go about our day without being monitored - has being constantly eroded. Surveillance cameras are popping up in more and more public places. Financial transactions take place via EFTPOS and other plastic cards (eg Snapper cards), creating records of our movements and activities. Private investigators and security firms monitor us on behalf of corporate clients if we campaign publicly for a political issues which goes against their clients’ commercial interests.

A plethora of laws now grant surveillance powers to police and other professional spies like the SIS and GCSB, and these powers seem to be incrementally widened every few years. Spy laws in NZ now include:

Often private ownership of a space is considered justification for the denial of privacy. How much is your privacy respected in a mall, or when browsing a commercial website? Disintermedia rejects both the transfer of public goods (or "commons") into private ownership, and the political devolution towards a surveillance society, as incompatible with individual liberty, and the economic democracy that underpins it, in an economy based on a high degree of specialization. The Privacy Not Privatization campaign will seek to shed light on the relationship between the usurping of public space by elite interests and the erosion of privacy through generalized surveillance, by highlighting current events connected with these issues, and offering practical advice on how to protect personal privacy.

An important distinction we try to highlight is the difference between privacy and security:

  • Privacy is a social norm, which is protected by common decency and mutual respect among free people, backed up by common law jurisprudence, and legislation like the Privacy Act ("New Zealand Privacy Act" 1993), and laws against harassment and stalking.
  • Security is a technical quality, protected by careful design  and maintenance of infrastructure, whether physical (the locks on your house), or digital (the encryption software that protects your internet banking from intruders).

In a democratic society, we should not have to keep our curtains closed at all times to stop peeping toms looking in, and we shouldn't have lock our doors at all times to stop strangers just wandering in. Social norms, and failing that, the enforcement of the law, should protect our privacy from these kinds of intrusions. There is no such thing as perfect security, and any democratic government has a duty to protect our privacy, without us having to resort to high security measures which can become restrictive and stressful to us.

When a government is a signatory to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as the New Zealand State is, they have formally accepted the duty of privacy protection. When governments pass laws which fail to do that, personal and collective security practices can go some way to restore the lost protection, but again, we shouldn't have to rely on unusual security measures to protect our privacy. Pressuring the authorities to stop violating our privacy, or stop passively allowing its violation by others, is as important, if not more important, than learning about security technology and practices.

For a more learned treatise on this topic, from a US perspective, I suggest the Huffington Post article 'Privatization' Is Not 'Privacy' by legal Professor Peter M. Shane.

We don't give legal advice or security advice, but ...

It's important to note that everyone using computers, especially to exchange sensitive communications and information, is responsible for making sure they take appropriate computer security measures. These tips are offered as a contribution to the ongoing discussion about computer security for activists, and while every effort has been made to base them on the most accurate information we can find, Disintermedia takes no responsibility for any consequences of trying out the techniques we describe. Like everyone, our understanding of the risks and security measures continues to evolve.

The tips below were put together between 2008 and 2013, and were based on the information available then. This included a user-friendly summary of online privacy and security issues published in 1997 on December.com, in an article by Justin Boyan called 'The Anonymizer - Protecting User Privacy on the Web'. Also, the 2003 paper 'The Digital Imprimatur' (2003) by SpeakFreely creator John Walker, which goes into some of the technical changes in the infrastructure of the internet which have made online surveillance easier, and the 2007 book of essays 'The Organic Internet' released by the American activist ISP, May First/ People Link.

Since the 2013 revelations about mass surveillance by US spy agencies, by the public persona known as "Edward Snowden", there has been an explosion of interest in digital security, particularly encrypted online communication. A plethora of new software projects has sprung up, many of them free code, including desktop/ laptop applications, mobile apps. and server software. In 2012, just before the Snowden revelations, the Canadian Pirate Party's Encrypt Everything campaign included a website which offered practical tips for avoiding mass surveillance, but it doesn't appear to have been updated since 2013, and the URL is now a spam site. Another project, Prism Break, also began documenting software and practices for secure communication around this time.

A summary of some resources of online security tips and tools we know of (additions or corrections welcome)

Important note! Disintermedia doesn't vouch for the competence of the groups that created any of these resources. Nor do we endorse any specific advice given in them, and in some cases we strongly disagree with some recommendations. Again, they're shared here to help you do your own research, and come to your own conclusions about what you need to do to secure your computer and communications. 

Practical Tips